When It Comes to Painful Emotions, Don’t Think — Just Feel
Five words was all it took to break through the blockade that surrounded my heart, freeing it to feel legitimate pain and eventually inspiring it to let go:
Some things are just sad.
A wise friend said this to me over dinner six months after I, at age 33, had suffered two unexpected and rare heart attacks in one week. The sadness he was referring to was not only the malaise that surrounded my subsequent loss of health, heart function, and confidence about life as I had known it. It was also a cloud that settled after I heard the added news that I should never get pregnant, thanks to the condition that caused my heart attacks—spontaneous coronary arterial dissection (SCAD)—in the first place.
Benevolent honesty is a way to be gentle with ourselves (and others) as we (or they) absorb painful realities.
SCADs are the leading cause of heart attacks in women under 50, and they often occur in “perfectly healthy” women (like I was) who are pregnant or postpartum (which I wasn’t). That my body wanted to do this twice when I wasn’t pregnant, the doctors said, would make the chance of it happening again if I was pregnant “astronomically high,” and the impact would almost certainly be “life changing or life ending.”
My friend’s head shifted slightly as he spoke the words. His voice was soft but steady, and his gaze kind yet intentional. There was no mincing of words, psychospiritual fanfare, upbeat suggestions of alternative scenarios, or positive spin. He was simply engaging in what I’ve come to call “benevolent honesty” — a kind of mindful, clear-eyed, no-exaggeration way of handling challenge or loss. He offered his with a present-focused, embodied kindness and compassion. Benevolent honesty is a way to be gentle with ourselves (and others) as we (or they) absorb painful realities.
As a therapist, clinical ethicist, and trauma researcher, I know well that absorbing painful realities is not something we humans easily do; we tend to avoid being in our bodies unless it feels good. After two heart attacks at an uncommonly young age, for no identifiable reason, being in my…