What the hell is a pain body?

feeling alienatedAccording to Eckhart Tolle we all have something called a ‘pain body’.

In Tolle speak: ‘the pain-body is my term for the accumulation of old emotional pain that almost all people carry in their energy field. I see it as a semi-autonomous psychic entity. It consists of negative emotions that were not faced, accepted, and then let go in the moment they arose. These negative emotions leave a residue of emotional pain, which is stored in the cells of the body.’

I really wish he’d cut it out with the phrases like ‘semi-autonomic psychic entity’ but I think I understand what he’s saying, which is that we each carry around a life time of old pain with us, which determines how we see the world.

So from the day you wet your pants at school and felt ashamed, to the pain of your first heartbreak and that anger with your father… all that emotion, if not felt, expressed and let go of at the time, stays with you and informs how we respond to day to day life, even fifty years after the event.

Some people, according to Tolle, are in their ‘pain body’ all the time – i.e. they’re living out old feelings all the time – and for others, it takes certain events to trigger it.

This ‘pain body’ is the reason why tiny things can send us over the edge. Somebody doesn’t say ‘good morning’ and we feel like we’ve been kicked in the stomach,  someone cuts us up in traffic and we are in a white rage… it is the not the actual incidents (which are minor) that are the real issue, it’s the fact that they’re tapping in to our deeper, long-standing hurts – our sense that nobody likes us, for example, or that the world is against us.

Tolle reckons that we unconsciously look for situations that confirm that our pain body is right. So, for example, angry people always find things in life to be angry about and seem to find conflict the moment they step out of the house, while insecure people will find constant affirmations that nobody likes them and will even seek relationships with people who are not interested in them, just to confirm the feelings of their pain body.

The ‘pain body’ then gets bigger and bigger, our negative thoughts kick in to back it up, and off we go…

Tolle says that just as we are attached to our ego – (our crazy thoughts) – we also get very attached to our pain, because we think it’s who we are. It’s a part of our story, the pain is familiar – so we find it hard to let it go:

Tolle writes: ‘In other words you would rather be in pain – be the pain-body – than take a leap into the unknown and risk losing the familiar unhappy self… Another way of describing the pain-body is this: an addiction to unhappiness.’ 

I can relate to that totally. It can be very easy to stay in the s*it, where it’s warm and familiar.  You get the added perks of being able to feel sorry for yourself, rope in sympathy, create a bit of drama.

On the other hand, it can be terrifying to step out into a different way of living life.

But I know that I do want to step into different way of living life, and for the first time, I really feel like I know how, thanks to this book. So assuming you might be open to that change too, what to do to get rid of your pain body?

First of all, and hardest of all, is to actually sit still with our feelings.

Most of us spend our lives running from our bad feelings, or suppressing them, or numbing them in booze/food/work/relationships/distraction… but the more we run, the more they are there, running the show. Or it could be that we don’t even know what our feelings are. We are so used to being in our head, that we don’t even allow ourselves to have feelings.

The other extreme is that we can wallow in our feelings, let them start off a whole spiral of negative thought, we tell ourselves stories of all the bad things that have happened to us and might happen to us and we end up drowning in our feelings.

For years I had no idea of what my feelings were beyond ‘bad’, so I used to work, drink, sleep, watch hours of television – anything to avoid the, well, void. Then last year, I started being aware of my different feelings:  I’m sad because of this… I’m angry because of that… which is all fine and good to a point, but actually I was drowning in my woes, it was like being in a swamp.

The balance, says Tolle, is just to observe your feelings, as you do your thoughts. So here goes:


– Notice your feelings as soon as they start to surface – so perhaps the moment you start to feel angry, sad, snappy, irritated, bored, in the mood to say something savage to someone.

Don’t fight them, but don’t get caught up in them either. If you feel sad, allow yourself to feel sad. If you feel angry… OK, fine, you feel angry. Don’t use this feeling as a spring board to start a whole spiral of negative thought about just why it is that you’re so sad, just who has done you wrong and all the bad things that have ever happened – just observe the feeling.

– Don’t judge yourself for having them – we are all human beings who are designed to have every kind of emotion.

-Notice how attached you are to these feelings. Do you get a kick out of being unhappy? Out of the drama? Do you want to pick up the phone and tell the world about this pain? Again, whatever, you feel, that’s OK. Just notice.

-And breathe. Tolle reckons that our pain body cannot live when we face it head on, that when we look at it and name it and face it, it ‘transmutes’ into something else. This is where I start get confused but I think the gist is that the more we step back and just witness our feelings, the easier to remember that we are something deeper than our feelings and our thoughts.

I still haven’t got an understanding of exactly WHAT we are beyond our feelings and thoughts – but I’m open to it. I guess it all comes down to us being Life, Love, Energy… all those things that make my tiny head hurt. But I won’t take an aspirin, I’ll just sit with my hurt-y head and observe it.

That’s all for now. xx

5 thoughts on “What the hell is a pain body?

  1. Sarah

    Interesting thoughts… & probably a lot of sensible truth there. I have found myself living in my ‘pain body’ at times, albeit never heard it described in that way, but think it sums it up pretty well. I definitely think that years of suppressing certain emotions for fear of being hurt, or angry have left some kind of ‘residue’ that I can feel resurface, particularly when someone pushes my buttons. This past year I’ve started to recognise & question when this happens. As John & Gaia would say, try to centre yourself, & listen to your body, asking “How do I feel? What emotion is this bringing up?” Plus some deep breaths & my mantra that everything is as it should be helps me move forward.
    Am loving your updates on the Power of Now, he talks a lot of sense.
    S xx

  2. Katie Weber

    This is a fabulous post…. so many are stuck in their lives, their pain and their drama. But noticing, allowing and detachment is the best way to move past any problem. Thanks for that important reminder.

  3. Arthur

    It’s been a while since I read The Power of Now, but the way you explain it, it sounds very much like he’s talking about trauma. There is another interesting aspect to trauma besides acting out subconscious patterns – apparently, when we become agitated (flight or fight state) the body releases adrenalin and also endorphins. It seems that endorphins are (or can be) addictive, and so we enter into an addictive cycle of revisiting our dramas to release more endorphins and milking our pain for what it’s worth. Sounds quite familiar to me.

    Whether or not Tolle has the ultimate answer, I hope sitting with the pain and noticing it without being swallowed up by it will help. Beware of re-traumatising yourself, however. Sensing the body is good, being sloshed around by emotions may not be good.

    1. Marianne Power Post author

      Ah yes, that totally makes sense about adrenaline etc being addictive. Don’t feel like I’m sloshing around in emotions at the moment, my head is very much above water and looking up at the sky. Thanks, as ever, for your wise words. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work looking into all this stuff, Arthur. Do you think that it’s helped?


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