Accepting and Releasing Professional Pain

In a recent blog, I shared the account of the team leader who was offended by his boss.  He was so enraged that he went “numb.”  He decided that he would resign.  His friend told him that flight was not the answer.  “The only way out, was through.”

A friend of mine, a retired psychiatrist, read the account and felt to share his own experience in dealing with professional pain.  His observations are extraordinary.

It was about year 5 into being a psychiatrist, I was feeling so much pain and dread about certain aspects of my work that I was considering leaving the organization and choosing to work in some other branch of psychiatry or move into another part of medicine. But I did not want to do that. I could hardly do what I needed to do at times because the pain was almost paralyzing. 

This also happened to me for about a year after the death of my father but at that time I went numb. Going numb is telling yourself, “I don’t care” and trying to live like that to avoid further pain.

In both these instances I sought professional counseling briefly and benefitted from the psychiatrists pointing out to me that I would be useless as a physician if I went numb. I know many physicians who became miserable in their professions because they “went numb” as a protection from the pains of our profession and never “went through the pain” and came out on the other side.

What I was told the second time was extremely simple but helpful. I was counseling with a brilliant psychotherapist. He said in effect, “Your patients are letting you feel their pain. Accept it as a gift, let yourself understand it but then you can let it go and let it pass on while you retain the knowledge and compassion it gave you.”

My friend indicated that the simple statement was transforming.  He learned how to apply the advice.  He explained that there is “professional pain” that can come in working with others.  He learned to take in and appreciate the pain of his clients without being crushed and today, when he occasionally practices, he still values the skill.  He receives and feels the pain, he allows it to enlighten his understanding so he can serve the other with love, but then, he says, “I gently give it back to them and to God.”

If he begins to fall into the pattern of numbness, he consciously employs one of his personal strategies to “stay alive and feeling.”  Often it involves slowing down and “connecting with nature and with God.”

He says, “I let God have the pain back–and God takes it if I offer it with understanding and somehow that offers me additional peace and strength.”  My friend closes by declaring that learning to accept and then release the pain of others is one of the greatest lessons he has learned.



  • In your organization, does anyone ever feel pain that causes them to go numb?
  • Transformational leadership includes demonstrating empathy or individualized concern, it means inclusion of the other, suffering with the other. Has any authority figure ever done this for you?  Have you ever done this for another?  Why is this precious pattern so rarely demonstrated?
  • In reading this account, what do you learn about being a more effective leader in the future?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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