Dealing with emotional pain: Why do we hold on to emotional pain?

This is Part 1 of a three-part series.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”— Buddhist proverb

I have been through it. You may have been through it too, and so would have many others. Emotional pain is a universal feeling. Death or loss of a dear one, getting fired, a break-up, an ailment, a financial loss, divorce, and betrayal are some common life situations that happen to many of us at different points I time. We may think that our pain is far more meaningful and intense than the other. The other thinks the same. But the truth is neither are we the first one to experience a particular pain, nor we will be the last. However, a pain leaves each one of us transformed in different ways. How each one of us handles the pain and emerges from it is what essentially defines us.

Healing from pain is a journey that not only empowers us to step towards a more fulfilling life, but it is also a liberating feeling that strengthens and rebuilds our minds helping us see the world differently. Having trusted friends and supportive family is a great thing and do help in our darkest times, but they cannot mend our mind and heart. They are not responsible for healing us. We are.

Why do we hold on to emotional pain?

  • Addiction to the pain: We often are addicted to holding on to our pain and over time it becomes a part of us. We forget what living life without it was like. Slowly we allow it to grow on us and eventually define us becoming our identity and comfort zone. We take refuge in the pain and feel sorry for ourselves. We live in the belief that it is what we deserve and are destined for.
  • Addiction to the pain: Sometimes we hold on to emotional pain because we do not know ‘how’ to let go of it. Letting go of pain may seem like chopping a limb off! Sometimes asking for help is all it takes to help us let go of the pain within us. Asking for help is often seen as being vulnerable and we find it easier to hold on to the pain than being judged as vulnerable.
  • Stay connected to the cause: Sometimes we hold onto emotional pain to remain connected to that which caused our pain, such as an estranged spouse or dead parent. We keep the past alive in our lives through the pain.
  • Sparing us the sense of guilt: Letting go of the pain sometimes brings a sense of guilt. The guilt of letting go of our association with the cause of pain, even though it may not fit into our life design. Living in pain and mourning are seen as acceptable. ‘Being happy’ after letting go of a painful life episode is perceived as being frivolous and uncommitted to the case in the first place. A good example is, a person holds on to the pain and grief of a separation/death/divorce because letting go, moving on, and being happy brings guilt because it could be perceived in a negative way by society. Holding on to the pain and living in it is ‘expected’ from us and we do not have the courage or willingness to defy the norms.
  • Inability or unwillingness to forgive: Sometimes we are so hurt that we find it impossible to forgive the cause of the pain (usually a person with whom we have had a close and trusted relationship). The inability and unwillingness to forgive lead us to cling to the pain strongly than ever. By not forgiving, we may think we are punishing the other person, but the truth is that we are punishing ourselves far more intensely.
  • The easy option: Sometimes staying in pain seems easier than letting go of it. We develop a relationship with the pain to the point that it is easier to stay in the pain than to do anything about it. The pain becomes comforting. Letting go of the pain would mean, looking for some productive and positive feelings and emotions to fill the void, and we have no clue what it could be. Moreover, it requires introspection, perspective, and effort, all of which need internal will and force.

If you have ever held on to emotional pain for and identify or relate to the reasons stated ahead, do share your experience and opinion.

Click here to read Part 2: Why must we let go of the pain?

Click here to read Part 3: How to let go of emotional pain?


  1. So nice !!!… First of all you did a brilliant job by choosing this context because such are given very less or little value now a days. We can relate to every words you say… and yes, because of society, guilt feeling and in most of the cases the pain becomes so comforting (without our knowledge) that we cling to it without any second thought.
    The right mindset and introspection is what it requires to come out of this state of mental imbroglio.


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