I vividly recall learning how to ride a bike and the pain my body felt each time my knee or elbow hit the asphalt. For the life of me, I could not understand why my mother removed the training wheels from my unicorn bike or why she would not put them back on after witnessing my pain. Like many of you, I can remember my first heartbreak and believing I would never get over the lost love. And sadly, I also recall the pain of giving the doctors permission to remove my mother from life support. Each of these experiences reinforced my understanding that pain was inevitable. Asking for the return of the training wheels so that I would stop falling (AVOIDANCE), petitioning for a second chance at a failed relationship (AVOIDANCE), and asking to sustain my mother on life support a little longer (AVOIDANCE) were all instances in which I attempted to escape the coming of pain.

Just as the shore cannot control the ebb and flow of the ocean, we cannot control the arrival of pain. Pain is certain. Accepting that pain will happen shapes how we respond when it inevitably and inconveniently shows up. When we ready our minds to accept changes and shifts, we prepare our minds to take ownership and initiation of our healing.   Embracing the reality that we cannot control when or how physical, psychological, or spiritual pain makes its presence known in our lives allows us to focus on what we can control, which is how we respond. Avoidance of pain leads to suffering and suffering is a choice. However, just as suffering is a choice, so is healing. Viewing life from a healing lens looks and feels better than experiencing life from the lens of hurt. So, how do we begin to heal?

Dr. Umieca N. Hankton, Ph.D.

Start with these simple tips:

  1. DO NOT deny the presence of pain. Pretending things are okay or that you are okay when you are not will not make the pain disappear. Avoidance of pain does not lead to growth and healing.  
  2. DO NOT hurt in silence, isolation, or dark spaces because shame, hopelessness, and apathy grow in those conditions.
  3. DO NOT stay in distressing environments. Get out of spaces and away from people who flourish due to your pain. Misery loves miserable company and narcissists need someone to gaslight.   
  4. DO acknowledge your wounds to yourself and others. We cannot heal that which we do not acknowledge.
  5. DO seek support as soon as you can. There’s no need to wait until the pain becomes suffering or interferes with quality of life. We would not wait to seek medical attention for a broken bone. Therefore, we should not wait to seek mental health treatment for an emotional injury. 
  6. DO connect with a mental health provider, which permits healing to occur sooner than later. Early intervention is vital.
  7. DO strengthen your boundaries. After an emotional or physical injury, the body needs time and space to rest and regain strength. Limit the access of people who drain you of your emotional, spiritual, and financial resources, especially the “if I were you” folks.
  8. DO prioritize your health and needs over the needs of others. Ensuring your needs are met is not a selfish action. Putting YOU first is an invaluable gift you offer to yourself that will also benefit others. A vehicle without fuel cannot travel, nor can you pour into others from an empty cup. 
  9. DO extend grace and forgiveness to yourself for the ways you had to survive that may not have been most helpful. You are human, deserving of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. May you offer these gifts to yourself first.

Dr. Hankton is a licensed clinical psychologist and the executive director of UNH Counseling Services. UNH Counseling Services is a private behavioral health agency that focuses on the health and wellness of Black women, LGBTQ+, clergy, and college students. Dr. Hankton provides clinical services to those located in TN, LA, TX, GA, WI, AL, D.C., IL, MN, & KY.