Not All Pain Is Created Equal

If you are human, at some point in your life you will experience the pain that comes from grief and loss. However, not all grief pain is created equal. The way one approaches and processes their pain can significantly impact their grief healing. In the realm of psychology and grief, the concepts of “clean pain” and “dirty pain” offer valuable insights into understanding the complexities of healthy grieving.

Coined by psychologist Dr. Steven Hayes, clean pain and dirty pain refer to two different ways individuals experience and process emotional pain during the grieving process.

Clean Pain vs. Dirty Pain: What’s the Difference?

Clean Pain: The Raw Essence of Grief

Clean pain refers to the natural and necessary emotional responses triggered by the loss of a loved one or a significant life change. It encompasses authentic feelings of sadness, longing, and sorrow that naturally accompany the grieving process. Clean pain is an essential and inevitable part of healing, serving a purpose similar to the body’s immune system responding to an injury; it’s uncomfortable but necessary for the healing process.

Healthy grieving involves acknowledging and embracing clean pain. It means allowing oneself to feel the depth of emotions without judgment or suppression. This type of pain promotes self-awareness, self-compassion, and ultimately contributes to personal growth and resilience.

Dirty Pain: The Unhealthy Layers

On the other hand, dirty pain involves additional layers of suffering that we impose upon ourselves, often stemming from destructive thought patterns, guilt, regret, or unrealistic expectations. This type of pain can hinder the grieving process by introducing unnecessary complications and prolonging the healing journey.

Dirty pain emerges when individuals judge their grief reactions or try to suppress their emotions, believing they should be ‘over it’ or ‘stronger.’ Feelings of guilt about things left unsaid or undone can contribute to dirty pain. Likewise, constantly dwelling on “what ifs” and “should haves” amplifies the emotional burden, impeding healing and making it more difficult to move forward.

The Impact on Healthy Grieving

Clean Pain as a Catalyst for Healing

Recognizing and allowing oneself to experience clean pain is crucial for healthy grieving. When we embrace the authentic emotions that arise from loss, we open the door to healing. Clean pain serves as a catalyst for growth, fostering resilience and acceptance over time. Acceptance does not mean you are okay with the loss; it simply means you have acknowledged the loss as reality. By expressing clean pain, individuals can navigate the grieving process more effectively, allowing themselves to mourn, seeking support from loved ones, and finding healthy outlets for their emotions, such as through creative expression, coaching, and therapy.

Mitigating Dirty Pain for a Smoother Journey

Addressing dirty pain is equally important in facilitating healthy grieving. Identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, practicing self-compassion, and setting realistic expectations can help individuals avoid unnecessary suffering. Seeking professional support, such as with a grief coach or therapist, can provide valuable tools for managing and mitigating dirty pain.

Striking a Balance for Healing

Understanding and recognizing the distinction between clean and dirty pain empowers individuals to navigate their grief with greater self-awareness and compassion. Embracing clean pain while actively working to minimize dirty pain creates a balanced approach to grief, fostering resilience, acceptance, and ultimately, healing. Acknowledging both clean pain and dirty pain creates space for a more compassionate and transformative healing process.