“There is such a thing as old emotional pain living inside you. It is an accumulation of painful life experience that was not fully faced and accepted in the moment it arose. It leaves behind an energy form of emotional pain. It comes together with other energy forms from other instances, and so after some years you have a “painbody,” an energy entity consisting of old emotion.” –Eckhart Tolle
We all get triggered sometimes. Someone will say something, or act a certain way, or respond to you with body language that pushes your buttons and wham! you feel a surge of panic, anger or shame. This emotional pain that arises is what Eckhart Tolle calls the “painbody”. It is an old wound that has festered and perhaps laid dormant inside your psyche, and occasionally it gets triggered because of an incident that happens, rises out of the depths of your consciousness, and begins to grow and strengthen from the negative thoughts you feed it.
Everyone’s painbody has its origin in a past painful event. One of mine was when I was 10 years old. My best friend, who lived across the street, betrayed me. I was invited to her house for a birthday party sleepover. Also invited were her cousins and other friends from the school she attended. I didn’t know anyone there except my friend.
At first the afternoon progressed as I expected, with the usual festivities—games, cake, silly antics. But after the adults retreated to the living room to watch TV, leaving us to play in my friend’s bedroom, the girls at the party turned on me. They began picking on me. They asked me about being Polish, and then laughed about how I was a “dumb Polack”. They made fun of me being “fat”, which was particularly hurtful to me. I didn’t have anything to say. I just sat there and took it. The more I sat there, the more they found things to make fun of and laugh about. Their laughter turned sinister, and my friend, to whom I turned in hopes she’d defend me, laughed right alongside them.
I had the presence of mind to get myself home, and since the party had been a sleepover, my coming earlier than expected that evening made my mother suspicious. She got the truth out of me, stormed over to the neighbor’s house, and promptly demanded that all the girls apologize to me. It was quite the scene. My friend’s mother was furious and apologetic. I’m sure the drama ruined my friend’s birthday party sleepover.
Afterward, my friend was no longer my friend. She became my neighborhood bully.
This is when one of my painbodies formed in my subconscious.
Today, whenever I trust someone and they betray my trust or reject me, my painbody is triggered. This can happen in all kinds of situations: at work, with my family, with my friends. I’m an adult with more than 30 years of experience and wisdom over the 10 year old I was then, but when something occurs that even remotely resembles that incident, I’m a little girl all over again, running home where she knows she’s safe.
This can cause tremendous pain and suffering. It can lead to misunderstandings, overreactions, and unnecessary drama.
One of the ways the painbody becomes stronger is that whenever we are triggered, we feed it thoughts.
“They don’t like me because I’m not as funny/with it/sociable as they are.”
“I guess I’ll always be the chubby girl no one likes, no matter how much I work out and diet.”
Of course, these are just thoughts and have no basis in fact. But we reinforce our pain by telling ourselves all manner of negative things about why something is happening or not happening. We make the painbody bigger and stronger, so the next time it is triggered out of dormancy, we react with more and more emotion. We become the painbody. After a while, we can no longer separate what is happening in reality with how we feel about it. It becomes our reality and takes us out of stillness and presence, because it takes over our mind.
While I don’t think we can ever fully eliminate or erase the painbody, there is something we can do to lessen its effect on us. We can stop feeding our pain body with thoughts. Whenever you are triggered, and you sense an arising of turmoil inside you, take a few seconds to become still and present. Just notice what is happening inside you. Notice where the pain body resides. Is it in your stomach? Your throat? Your belly?
Instead of focusing on where the discomfort lies in your body, focus on other parts of your body that still feel relaxed, like your feet or your hands. Imagine the pain body dissolving and becoming smaller as the other, relaxed parts of your body take over.
Before reacting to the situation, also notice your thoughts. What are you telling yourself about what just happened? These are just thought forms, nothing more, and they aren’t real, as much as you’d like to think they are.
By refraining from feeding the painbody, you may not eliminate it altogether, but you can diminish it. Over time, you’ll be able to easily notice when you’re being triggered, and you can just as easily let it go, without comment or complaint. That will allow you to be fully present to the moment and experience it as it should be experienced, instead of through the lens of your 10-year old self.