Do you ever wonder why sometimes after a painful event, you just cannot get your feet back on the ground—even if you know God’s truth about the situation—while other times someone can say a word of truth and you pop right back up? There is a reason and it has to do with how God designed our brains.
Emotional pain can be felt in five different areas, or levels, of our brain and each level has a different need in order to find a solution for the pain. Only one of the five is easily fixed by a word of truth. Truth helps the pain in other levels but it does not take it away. We don’t have to know the name of the five brain levels to get help with our emotional pain, though they do have names such as the amygdale, the cingulate and the pre-frontal cortex. We will just call them by their numbers, Level 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
The pain that doesn’t go away with a word of truth is called attachment pain. This is the kind of pain we feel when we want to be with only one certain person and we cannot be with them for various reasons. This pain comes from the part of our brain that we call Level 1, where we bond and attach to others. It is very deep inside the subconscious and cannot be controlled by the will. It gets activated as soon as we are born and is like a light that goes off and on as we learn to bond securely with our mother. How bonding works and doesn’t work is another blog, but for this one, I just want to focus on the difference in this attachment pain that does not respond to a word of truth and the part of the brain that does respond to truth.
Jesus told us, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” I know this, believe it and have experienced it. So when I am feeling extreme attachment pain, His presence and His words are very real, but they only help me suffer well through that pain, they do not take it away. On the other hand, if I am having what we call Level 5 emotional pain, where I am believing a lie or have faulty information, just about any information that will offset that lie will take away the pain.
So if Level 1 attachment pain is not taken away by a word of truth, what needs to happen? This pain must be faced, felt and supported in ways that will help me stay relational and continue to act like myself—the definition of “suffering well.” Think about Jesus on the cross—how He was feeling intense, extreme emotional pain on top of physical pain. How did it look when He stayed relational and acted like Himself? He talked to John and Mary, He prayed to His Father, He sang Psalms, He made arrangements for Mary, He listened to and cared about the thief, etc.
You may be thinking, “Well, that was Jesus.” But that same Jesus lives in us who are His. When we experience intense attachment pain and must suffer well, many times we need, not only to be holding on to Jesus, but to have someone there with skin on to support us and encourage us while we feel that deep sadness of not having whomever or whatever it is that we want. We just need someone to sit with us in the pain and not try to fix us too quickly with a word of truth. While experiencing deep painful wailing, I have heard the truth I know right there in my head, (such as “God is at work; God is in control; This will be a great lesson some day.”), known it was true, but the pain did not go away. As time passes, whatever truth we need will help and eventually ease the pain, but during intense attachment pain, it’s best to feel it until it stops.
Attachment pain can begin in infancy when secure bonding does not take place. Traumas can create attachment pain, and life happenings can bring it about in an instant. Divorce, death, fires, tornadoes, moves, breaks in relationships can all be triggers for old attachment pain or bring on current pain. If the pain is stuffed and repressed, it will affect our lives, eventually leading to addictions that try to cover the attachment pain. But that is another blog. So for this one, think about what it means to suffer well—to cry, to wail, to scream with your pain but stay relational and continue acting like yourself during the time of grieving. Call someone for help who can handle sitting with you while you feel the sadness about whomever or whatever you long for but can’t have. Talk to Jesus and get comfort from Him. Explore whether the pain is amplified by unresolved pain from the past and get healing for that. (The past pain can often be taken care of more quickly than the current pain, but healing will help the current pain.) Remember that our pain shows our value as someone sits with us in it. The truth will help, when spoken in good timing, but it will not take away attachment pain.
Part Two will explain all five levels of pain, what they need and how they work to resolve a trauma.