“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.”
– August Wilson
During my son’s delivery, I mainly remember my mother at the bedside. His father, my father, and my sister were all present. They said my dad kept walking in and out of the room in a nerve-wrecked haze, but I have no memory of that. My mother’s trepidatious stare at the monitors is what I most recall. Afterwards, girlfriends preparing for birth would asked me about the labor pain. However, my patchy recollection did not give the experience its just due.
People once believed that women actually “forgot” the severity of labor pain, which has allowed procreation to continue. In other words, no sane person would sign up for such jarring discomfort repeatedly unless the memory was dampened. However, more recently, theorists retrospectively deduced the halo effect theory of childbirth. This states that women don’t forget the intensity of labor. Rather, the rush of endorphins following delivery and from holding the newborn overrides the pain. This caused me to contemplate whether this halo effect can be harnessed after intense emotional pain.
The Latin root of the word emotion is emovere, which means to move, remove, or agitate. The author Penache Desai refers to emotions as “energies that move.” Simply put, emotions can incite action or, in some cases, cause inaction. For example, one mother who has lost a child to gun violence may be accosted by grappling fear and anger, causing her to become more reclusive. Meanwhile, another parent with the same grief is motivated to start a support group for those who have lost children in violent ways. What makes this difference? How can we channel the energy of our emotions about negative experiences toward positivity?
First, I believe it is important to acknowledge emotions as supernatural energy. One of my greatest challenges has been to transition from intellectualizing this concept to understanding it spiritually. Self-help gurus tend to preach to the masses about utilizing this cosmic energy in the natural world. Still, to many, the concept appears to be as tangible as unicorn tears. Sometimes, real life examples make it plain.
The euphemism “waking up on the right side of the bed” illustrates how emotions can lead to positive action. Some days, I feel so good that it propels me to multitask in innovative and efficient ways. I feel great; therefore, I do great. Just as in physics, an increase in positive voltage produces greater outflow. But what about the instance of despair? By the same physical law, negative energy lends to low output. While daily life is comprised of varying degrees of positive and negative emotions, it is imperative to not allow the feelings to adversely affect your performance. This is especially true in the field of medicine. Although doctors are human too, very little room for error is allowed when being entrusted with the care of others.
When dealing with a negative emotion, psychotherapists encourage embracing, rather than repressing, the feeling. Through confrontation, a person can begin to understand the heart of the matter.
Why does this hurt so much? What does it mean about me? How does this change how I view the world around me?
Housed in these answers is the positive energy necessary to move forward. Often, we operate in automatic mode, instinctively reacting to sadness, pain, and disappointment, rather than taking time to understand its meaning. Every heartbreak offers an opportunity to discover our needs, motivations, resiliency and the areas that need cultivation. When we unearth the positive energy within negative emotions, we evade the reflexive inaction that tries to stamp out our productivity and instead give birth to our life’s purpose, a unique signature to this world.
Dr. Dee is a board-certified neurologist with specialty training in clinical neurophysiology committed to educate the community on how to live more healthy lives.
Niven, CA1, Murph-Block, T. “Memory of labor pain: a review.” Birth. 2000 Dec 27 (4):244-253.