March 02, 2014

A Visual Narrative: Transforming Emotional Pain

When dealing with pain, I've always pictured myself as stuffing it down the layers of armor I'd set up around me. Just like an onion.

This is something I think we all do to an extent. I was just very extreme about it.

My armor was very elaborate, and involved masks of happiness.

It was easier to fool everyone-- even myself-- into believing that I was happy, than to deal with my pain.

We're raised to swallow back negative emotions because it makes those around us uncomfortable.

Maybe others get uncomfortable when faced with anger or distress because something deep inside their onion-y layers totally resonates with these emotions. 

I was an expert stuffer-of-Bad-Feelings. 

It didn't matter what happened.

Boyfriend cheated on me? I laughed. 

A "friend" humiliated me in public? I smiled.

A co-worker cornered me and asked me if I'd ever fuck him? I pretended it never happened.

Eventually, there was too much pain to bear.

The layers cracked under the weight. I experienced the leaks of emotional pain in terrible, violent nightmares. I'd cry for what seemed like no reason at all. Sometimes, when alone, I felt like my heart was breaking and I'd have a panic attack.

Eventually, I couldn't stuff the pain anymore. My happy-mask broke off and layers and layers of pain came with it. 

I tried to make it go away by drinking alcohol, getting a new boyfriend, eating lots of foods that dulled my emotions.

No matter what I did, at the end of the day, when I was alone, the pain would still be right there. It felt like it was tearing apart my insides.

I realized it wasn't going away. It needed to be faced.

I began to take deep breaths.

I meditated.

I felt better after doing things like yoga, painting, and ceremonies.

I began to acknowledge my pain.

Instead of expecting myself to just get over it, I gave myself permission to hurt. To feel every betrayal, every horrible situation, every stab-in-my-back.

Once I gave myself this support, I was able to release my layers.

This wasn't easy.

There were moments when I felt like I couldn't feel any worse.

There were moments when I wondered if healing was even worth it.

Slowly, very slowly, it got easier.

Over time, the pain has become something I can handle.

It's not that I no longer have a happy-mask. I still smile when I want to scream sometimes.

But I've learned the art of dealing with my emotions as they come. Instead of stuffing them, I honor them.

I've learned that pain can be a Way-Shower in my path.

It tells me when I am being taken advantage of. It tells me when I need to rest. It's a warning signal for when I've gone too far (or have allowed another to go too far).

Pain has taught me self-protection.

In this way, I've learned that pain-energy can be transformed into something beautiful.


I've written a little e-booklet on the practices I've found helpful with transforming my emotional pain. If you are interested, it is on sale in my Etsy shop for 99¢.


  1. Replies
    1. YES. I've never heard this way before but I love it.

  2. Hi Raquel, lovely, tender and vulnerable, which only adds to its loveliness.

    Thanks for speaking your beautiful truth!


    1. Thank you Sue. I so appreciate your lovely comments!!

  3. How true - of me and so many others. Thank you. And I love Birdie's phrase.

  4. This is such a poignant and relevant post for me - thanks so much for taking the time to share the importance of emotional connection and liberation Raquel. As women we're so often conditioned into making ourselves wrong for strong emotional responses, and it's so freeing to give yourself the permission to feel again. Thank you!

    1. Yes... I completely agree. I've been told by (obviously dysfunctional) men that for me to get angry or unkind was "wrong", but we have also been raised to be "nice". It is freeing to be able to feel everything inside of us.

  5. How gorgeous is this post? I felt I had just read a story to my inner child, beautiful thank you!

    With love X

  6. hi Raquel, so eloquently, insightfully and creatively you explain our human condition to us! Well done and thank you, Kassi x

  7. This is a very important message to put out there. I've been using the onion image too, although a bit differently. It seems I can't shed all the layers at once and get to the core, just one at a time.

    1. I don't feel I'm at the core yet, either, but I now see it as a smaller and more manageable onion. There are triggers that will loosen layers, or tighten them up...there's more pain that occurs and contributes to the layers... there can be others' pain that contributes, too. I usually simplify in the narratives, but these things, our psyches and our emotions, are a very complex system. I sometimes wonder if there is even a core? An end? It seems somehow there is always more paint to work out or added on. Like when my brother in law committed suicide.. that just happened last year but it seems that whole event has added several layers. So I think it must be a process, a life-long one.

  8. This was lovely, Raquel! I've certainly been where you were at, stuffing away the bad feelings until there was nothing to do except face them... once I faced them, I was free from them. I've used affirmations and journaling to go within and heal those wounds. They are not completely gone, but I've worked through them and evolved into someone I really, truly wan to be. : ) Thanks for sharing your story. xo

    1. thanks so much Kristen! yes, at a certain point I think we all have to face the stuffing... affirmations are great and I've just discovered the power of journaling-- sooo potent. Congratulations on working through the pain... you are so strong and inspirational!!

  9. Oh Raquel! This post is so lovely, and so powerful! I often think that we are so socialized to be "nice" that we just don't learn to express anything else so we just stuff it all down until we can't stuff anymore. Your illustrations are so great! Loved this so much! Thank you for sharing your gifts :) xo

    1. thank you soo very much Cindie! I completely agree... we are socialized to be little else but nice and polite, which stuff happens that isn't nice and polite we've no idea what to do! Thanks for all your kind comments <3


I'd love to hear from you.