Whether it’s a breakup, a negative emotional pattern that keeps emerging in your life, some childhood angst that you’ve been suppressing for too long, or just a general influx of feeling that you never know what to do with, healing is ultimately what life is all about. This is not because we’re all destined to be broken open without pause, but because when it comes to mental or emotional healing, the point is to end up better than you were before.

When you heal something physically, the goal is to achieve as much comfort and function as you did prior. When you’re healing emotionally, the goal is to be able to use the experience to make you happier and more aware than you ever could have been without it. The point is to use the experience to teach you something. If this is the first lesson of healing: whatever you went through can give you something so important, it will be worth having gone through it. Here, a few other things you need to know before you can truly transform your inner demons into forces of positivity.

1. You must listen to what your pain is trying to tell you.
It will not go away until you do. Pain is a response to tell you that something isn’t right in your life. You feel pain when you place your hand near a flame so you’ll move it before it disintegrates. Your pain response is crucial, and it’s crucial to listen to. It’s a matter of what you do with what your pain says that will ultimately define your life.

2. You must realize that pain demands presence.


If it seems like you can’t quite identify the root of your pain or like you keep finding things you think are the causes of your discontent but they end up not being that emotionally jarring, your problem is most likely that you aren’t present. Pain demands that we be present in our lives, and it’s what shows up when we aren’t living in the moment. Most of the time, that’s the very simple root of all your very (seemingly) complex issues.

3. You must understand that your brain can’t differentiate “good” from “bad,” it only knows “comfortable” and “uncomfortable.”
This is to say that while you must follow your instincts and your heart and your desires, you cannot follow comfort (they are not the same thing.) Seeking comfort will destroy your life, and that’s not hyperbolic. Comfort is what drives us to be attached to outcomes and never truly follow our dreams. It’s the discomfort of stepping out of what you’ve known that makes you want to rescind and never fully follow your dreams. If you feel resistance toward what you truly want, this is why.
4. You must take responsibility for your life.
Most people don’t change their lives because they’re waiting for someone else to do it for them. We all have this strange, subconscious belief that somebody else will save us. This is why people who hit rock bottom tend to be the most successful: It’s that moment of hitting the ground in which you realize “I am responsible for me.” When you truly know that, you take your life seriously, and you do something about it. Otherwise, you sit in your misery as though you’re making a statement of complaint to a universe that is never going to do anything about it.

5. You must let yourself feel.
As one of my good friends always says: “you’ve gotta feel it to heal it” (cheesy, yes, accurate, also yes.) A lot of the time, emotional turmoil comes from suppressed feelings, things we were taught aren’t okay and so we repress them. You cannot pick and choose which feelings you experience, you can only pick and choose how you respond to each experience, and what you do in the wake of an emotional eruption.

6. You must recognize

 that you’re not going to get anywhere until you stop seeking comfort.
We build our lives around avoiding pain. It’s our psychological instinct to avoid or numb whatever it is that’s causing us distress, because that will surely fix it more than going into the discomfort (only to experience more discomfort) will. But the joke’s on us, in the end: the more we avoid it, the more it grows (the universe whispers until she screams.)

7. You must embrace the fact that change doesn’t happen by dismantling the old, but in building the new.

Certainly you have to be able to identify and understand the root of a problem to fix it, but that’s not the actual work of change (though most people confuse it for that.) The real work is in creating a new life, a new mindset, a new situation, one that renders the old one obsolete. You will not find what you are seeking for in the ruins of the life you’re ready to move on from. It’s only in truly being ready to build something positive out of them that changes you.