How I Learned That My Pain is Valid and Worthy of My Own Empathy and Love

“Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. Sit with it. Even though you want to run. Even when it’s heavy and difficult. Even though you’re not quite sure of the way through. Healing happens by feeling.” ~Dr. Rebecca Ray

It’s July 2022 and I’m in the middle of a red tent at Shambala Music Festival in British Columbia.

I sit elbow to elbow, knee to knee, heart to heart with a group of women who I am meeting for the first time.

It’s hot and we’re sweaty.

A teacher is leading a healing womb meditation, and she prompts us to identify a person that has caused us pain, so that we can release that person and the power they wield over us.

I am coming up short, thinking…

“No one has caused me any real pain.”

“I don’t have any real trauma.”

“The pain I have experienced isn’t bad enough.”

So I directed my healing energy to two friends who I believed were in need of more healing than me.

I instantly realized what I was doing. I was defining my friends by their perceived abundance of pain and trauma and defining myself by my supposed lack of pain and trauma.

I knew in that moment that this was probably not fair to my friends or to me, but this way of thinking had been familiar to me throughout my thirty-two years of living.

Over and over again, I have found myself feeling guilty for the fact that I don’t think I have any “real” trauma.

I come from a stable home with parents who love and support me. Growing up, I had everything I needed and most things I wanted. I have a big brother who is one of the best men (best humans) I know. I grew up in a middle-class part of Maryland. I have white skin in America. I can see, hear, and move my body.

I used to constantly wonder how the challenges I have experienced could possibly stack up against those of my friends. She who experienced the deepest sexual trauma at a young age; or she who had an alcoholic father who was physically and emotionally abusive; or she who is regularly profiled when she walks home to her apartment because of the color of her skin.

Or how my challenges could stack up against students I’ve mentored…like a ten-year-old boy from Syria whose legs are decorated with shrapnel scars; or a fifteen-year-old boy from Eritrea who was a child soldier; or a sixteen-year-old young woman who is the caretaker for her sick mother and five younger brothers and sisters.

Luckily for me, and for you, I have detached from my struggle story that my pain is not enough. I have learned quite a few things and shifted away from this unhealthy way of thinking about pain and trauma.

First, I have learned, and will continue to re-learn, that there is no competition for who has suffered the most. Trauma and pain are not a comparison game. 

All experiences, emotions, and feelings are valid. And we all get to practice empathy for and awareness of the experiences and heartache of others, and of ourselves.

I have also learned that people are not defined by their trauma. 

And I am deeply sorry to the people in my life who I have ever defined in this way.

My final learning is that the things I have experienced are valid and enough to warrant my own empathy, healing, and love. 


The countless times having sex with a previous partner, even though I didn’t want to, because it was just easier to go along with it. Which resulted in a period of my life where I really didn’t like sex. I told myself, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just sex.

The pressure from a friend to mess around with her boyfriend while she watched. Even though I said, “I don’t want to.”  I told myself I was just being a prude. This should be fun. What’s wrong with me?

The grabs and gropes on the street, in the club, at the bar. I told myself this just came with the territory of being a woman.

The unwanted touch and advance from a friend. I told myself I’ll just forget this and move on.

The shame of one-night stands, even though I knew he, whoever he was, felt not shame but something more akin to glory. I told myself it was my fault for having a one-night stand. I brought this shame upon myself

All of these experiences, and more, have been buried deep within me for years and I had barely been aware of them, until recently, as I have embarked on a very intentional journey of self-excavation.

For me, this journey has included meditation, prayer, journaling, somatic healing, and experiences like the one in the red tent.

I embarked on this journey thinking I would unpack a few insecurities and move on with my life with relative ease.

But what has actually happened is that I have uncovered so many hidden treasures in myself.

These treasures are sometimes in the form of past pain. Other times they take the form of nuggets of ideas that I buried long ago for a rainy day. And yet other times, they are in the form of things that I used to love as a child but forgot about as I grew up and was told by the world what I was supposed to love and who I was supposed to be.

And now I get to excavate even further to see what each of these treasures is here to teach me. For the ones I shared above, there is a clear theme of sexuality, and that theme has led me to deep dive into this space with myself. This looks like self-pleasure, dancing naked in the mirror, loving every part of my body, and speaking my desires out loud to my partner.

This journey has plunged me into the depths of my own darkness. And in that plunge, I have been reminded of my own strength—of my ability to bask in the darkness, all while knowing I will be okay.

I also get to remind myself that I am enough. My pain is valid. I am worthy of taking up space.

Guess what. The same goes for you, love.

About Teresa Towey

Teresa Towey is a coach and mentor for women. Teresa curates individual and group spaces to guide you in breaking free from societal expectations about what you “should” do, so you start doing what you want, and are free to express the most wild and creative parts of you. Check out her website and follow her on Instagram. Use this link to schedule a free consult call!

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