The Meaning of Pain



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Carl Thomas

Pastor | Live Free Founder | Lover of Jesus, Philly sports, fitness, tattoos, sarcasm, and craft beers.

Pain is one of those strange phenomena that all humans endure on some level at different times in their lives.

Perhaps the most confusing thing about pain is that there are so many forms of it. There’s physical pain, emotional pain, phantom pain, psychogenic pain… you get the point. Nonetheless, regardless of the type of pain we experience, it is something that generally we rather avoid if at all possible.

This is especially true when talking about emotional pain.

But what is it about pain that we hate so much? Is it the actual pain? Or is something else? 

Think about the last time you stubbed your toe. It hurt. It was painful. And it’s most likely something you’d rather avoid doing again. But, it also is probably something that you got over about 30 seconds after the throbbing stopped.

However, what about that time your dad yelled at you in public when you were 8 years old embarrassing you in front of all your friends? That one still kind of hurts, doesn’t it? Even though the impact of his painful actions wore off many years ago.

This all begs the question… Why does some pain only hurt for a short time and other pains last decades?

And the answer to that question is meaning.

In other words, it’s not the pain that’s the problem. It’s the meaning we ascribe to that pain. But why is this important? 

Because pain is often what drives our sexual compulsions. This is especially the case when talking about emotional pain.

  • Our boss yells at us. 
  • Our spouse rejects us. 
  • Our friend betrays us.
  • Our pastor doesn’t call us back.
  • Our small group leader talks bad about us.
  • Our job application gets turned down.


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And so we sexually act out to avoid, suppress, or detach from the pain.

But here’s the thing…

Being yelled at, rejected, betrayed, or ignored are all things most of us have experienced at some time in our lives. It’s not that unusual. And ALL of those instances did not very likely send you into a sexual frenzy? 

Why? Because it is the meaning that matters.

Getting yelled at by some random guy driving a cab doesn’t mean much to us. We just think, “there’s one more crazy person on the street.” But when your boss yells at you, that’s a very different situation. 

That means something. Or more accurately stated, we make it mean something.

  • Does my boss now think I’m stupid?
  • Does this mean I’m a failure like I always feared?
  • If he fires me, what will my family think?
  • Can I ever measure up to his standards?

These are painful meanings that hurt far more than the actual yelling. And so to avoid these feelings we may seek after things like porn and sex to numb those unpleasant thoughts. These types of instances we often refer to as “triggers.”

Something happens and that something creates a response. 

Why is this important? 

Because if we recognize the meaning of our pain, we are one step closer to perhaps dealing with that pain in a healthier way. Rather than suppressing or avoiding it, we can explore it and start to address all the irrational and harmful thoughts we are running from.

That said, here are 3 things to consider next time you experience some sort of pain and feel the need to flee or avoid.

1. Pause and Reflect

When faced with pain, whether physical or emotional, your immediate instinct might be to avoid it or find a quick fix (like porn). However, take a moment to pause, reflect, and slow down. By doing so, you give yourself the opportunity to acknowledge the pain and the feelings associated with it. 

This acknowledgment is the first step towards understanding the deeper meaning behind the pain. It allows you to explore why the situation is causing you pain and what beliefs and/or fears may be contributing to your emotional response.

2. Seek Understanding

Understanding the root cause of your pain is crucial for effective healing. Often, our reactions to painful situations are influenced by past experiences, traumas, or deeply held beliefs. By seeking to understand why you are feeling a certain way, you can begin to unravel the layers of meaning attached to the pain. 

This process of self-exploration can be challenging but is essential for personal growth and healing. It may involve journaling, therapy, or conversations with trusted individuals (like a therapist) who can offer insights and support.

3. Seek Support

Pain, especially emotional pain, can be isolating. Seeking support from others can provide you with a different perspective and help you feel less alone in your struggles. Friends, family, a therapist, or a support group/community can offer encouragement and guidance as you navigate through your pain. 

They can help you process your emotions, challenge negative beliefs, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Additionally, support groups or online communities can be valuable resources for connecting with others who may be experiencing similar challenges.

By pausing to reflect, seeking to understand, and seeking support, you can begin to address the underlying meaning behind your pain. This process is not easy and may require time and effort, but it is a crucial step towards healing, peace, and finding real freedom.

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