Stop creating suffering for yourself (here’s how)

Last month I received some news that was quite painful. But in the week that followed, my thoughts around what had occurred were downright tortuous. Until, in a Nia dance class, I heard my Wise Self say loud and clear, “Renee, don’t create more pain for yourself than is necessary.”  This stopped me in my tracks. It helped me to realize my role in what was happening.

Many psychologists advocate a mindfulness approach called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). They differentiate two kinds of pain: “clean pain” and “dirty pain.”  Clean pain is what we feel when something hurtful happens to us. Dirty pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong this is (don’t forget about when xyz happened: open file drawer three, letter M, case 24)!


Interestingly, the two kinds of pain reside in different sections of the brain. One part simply catalogs the event, while another creates a continuous stream of thoughts about those events.  This helps to see how easily we can move from pain to suffering (or from clean pain to dirty pain), right?

Like many people, I experienced my share of trauma in my 20s and early 30s—my parent’s divorce, two suicides, early deaths, family members battling addiction and mental illness.  I’ve done boatloads of healing, surrendering, meditation and letting go to release old mental garbage, even still, new events can trigger old wounds and leave me swimming in a sea of “dirty pain” (you’ve heard the phrase, the issues are in the tissues!).

Are you creating suffering for yourself? Want to stop and ready to feel good?

Here’s what helps me:

  1. First, pause to consider,  “Is what I’m experiencing clean pain or dirty pain (my friend Bridg recommends writing out just the facts to differentiate clean vs. dirty pain)?”
  2. Then ask,  “Do I know that (fill in the phrase) is actually true?”
  3. Lastly, author Byron Katie challenges us to ask, “Who would I be (and how would I feel) without this story?”

After discerning this, I do everything I can to physically and emotionally release and let go: I engage in movement (yoga, qigong, mindful walks, Nia dance—move a muscle, change a thought!), I ask for and receive help, I practice self-compassion, I take nightly detoxifying Epsom salt baths and I stand in allegiance to myself (read more).

I’m happy to report I’m experiencing a much more balanced, holistic and high-level perspective this week. And I’m keeping the beloved author Anne Lamott’s playful quote on my nightstand: “My mind is a bad neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.”



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  • Renew and recharge with like-minded women in NC. Join me Sat., June 8th from 1-6 in Brevard, NC (near Asheville) at the beautiful Brevard Yoga Center for our New Way of Being: Women’s Self-Renewal Mini Retreat; almost sold out! Learn more . View all retreats here. 

Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance coach/author/speaker and self-care evangelist Renée Peterson Trudeau. Passionate about helping men and women experience balance through the art/science of self-care, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, US News & World Report, Spirituality & Health and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal groups based on her award-winning self-care curriculum.  She is the author of three books on life balance and mindfulness including the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 17-year-old son. More on her background here.

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