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Finding Beauty in Emotional Pain

Watching a perfect storm unfold can be a captivating process. I'm talking about the meteorological phenomenon where there's sporadic lighting, booming thunder and overflowing rain falling from a dark gray sky. It's a beautiful thing because of how complex and bold it is. It may feel like the world is going to end or the sky is going to fall while it's happening but then comes serenity.

As human beings we experience circumstances that are comparable to a storm because of how intense they can be. We go through financial hardships, suffer the losses of loved ones, struggle to survive illnesses and go through the turmoil of breakups or divorce. Moreover, we're prone to operating under a negativity bias where the gloom of undesirable things is more powerful than the brightness of desirable things and this can make the storm-like circumstances last longer.

It's possible to find beauty in our emotional pain. This sounds paradoxical at the surface because pain isn't necessarily pleasing to the senses like beautiful things are. But we come to like our emotional pain once we recognize its transformative power.

What's Considered Beautiful

The idea of beauty on the media has become more inclusive in the recent years with more sizes, skin tones, hair textures and levels of modesty being displayed. It can be argued that our standards of physical beauty have significantly changed for the better.

In his liberating book A New Earth, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle states that "What you can do to a person you can do to a situation." Just like our idea of what makes people beautiful has changed dramatically we need to change our idea of what beautiful situations entail.

We intuitively think that beautiful equals good. Research on the halo effect demonstrates that we tend to think a physically attractive person also has other unrelated positive traits like intelligence but this is an error in judgment that can be hard to overcome. An emotionally painful situation isn't perceived as beautiful first and foremost because we aren't able to identify its goodness. By cherry-picking the transformative aspects of emotional pain we can subsequently see the beauty in it.

More Exposure to Emotion

Pink has never been my favorite color. My mom decided that it was a good idea to paint the beige home I grew up in with a dark pastel pink. The house looked distasteful and outlandish to me at first with the pink but the more I saw it the more I liked it.

The mere-exposure effect in psychology describes why I came to like the pink house. This effect more commonly takes place when beforehand there isn't a negative attitude towards something that we then get exposed to repeatedly. Nonetheless, this effect explains that we can hack a response to a thing or event by building a familiarity towards it.

We tend to run away from negative emotions due in great part to the way we were raised. Crying, uneasiness and having an angry attitude are things we nip in the bud as fast as possible rather than approach with curiosity. Repressing emotions might seem ideal in the short-term but it affects our well-being in the long-term and makes it impossible to get enough emotional exposure to start building something beautiful within us.

From Breakdown to Breakthrough