Recognizing Pain Can Lead to Overcoming It
As we enter the “most wonderful time of the year” and sing songs of merriment, glad tidings, and hallelujahs, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the pain and suffering present in our lives, our communities, and our world so that we can make room for more joy and merry-making.
Both pain and suffering are inevitable parts of the human experience. An important distinction between the two: we feel pain as an uncomfortable or unpleasant sensation in the body and through emotions; we suffer because of the meaning surrounding the pain. You may feel pain when you twist an ankle, when your spouse hurts your feelings, or when you are grieving the death of a loved one. Suffering endures past the initial shock of pain and includes our beliefs, thoughts and judgments surrounding the painful event. You may endure suffering from a chronic mental or medical condition or plain loneliness. A nation suffers collectively while under oppressive rule of a foreign government.
Experiencing pain is one of the only tidbits of certainty this human life offers. And because we assign meaning to circumstances, we are likely to suffer from time to time. If you accept this fact of life, you can actually lessen your suffering. Knowing pain and suffering are universal helps us let go of self-judgment and hand over the reigns of control. Instead of avoiding or fixating on our pain and suffering, try approaching it like you would an uninvited and unwanted dinner guest: you can be present and tolerate the discomfort for now because eventually, the discomfort will leave.
While suffering is inevitable, you may be suffering unnecessarily, and in doing so, preventing yourself from healing the pain and truly thriving. Perhaps, in some circumstances, you hold the key to your own freedom from suffering!
Some sources of undue suffering include:
- Not forgiving yourself for past mistakes which can lead to self-destructive behavior and isolation
- Not forgiving others which stirs up resentment and a combative or victim mindset
- Ruminating on the past or future which can contribute to anxiety and depression
- Self-protection: fearfully avoiding vulnerable emotions or situations, and in doing so, missing out on joy, connection, and growth
Take a minute to ask yourself if you are contributing to your own suffering right now. Are you resisting change, holding a grudge, or catastrophizing a future scenario? Are you keeping busy so you do not have to address your uncomfortable emotions? Is there any part of your suffering that you can lessen yourself? What kind of action steps are needed?
If you still find yourself suffering, take heart. You may be running the endurance race. You may continue to suffer, but from suffering, seeds of hope, contentment, joy, compassion, and meaning are being planted. Tend to them with care and diligence. Find comfort in knowing that even in the midst of pain, the suffering is transcendent. It teaches you how to better love yourself and others. It slowly reveals and supports new, beautiful life built upon the once barren and desolate land.
Emily Lash, MA, LPC
LifeSpring Behavioral Health