If you’ve ever looked at the people around you and wondered, Why does everybody seem to have it so easy when I have it so hard, no matter how hard I try, then you might know what I mean when I speak of the wish for a pain-free life.
Some define suffering as the struggle against pain. But the truth is that sometimes we suffer despite our best efforts to accept the pain that life brings; pain that we see as meaningful, as a test, or as something we are given to help us grow. Sometimes the pain builds up to a point that surpasses what we feel we can bear, and at that point we start to fear the pain, think about how to avoid it, and preoccupy ourselves with how to escape it when it comes. Sometimes this is healthy and sometimes it’s just a repetitive cycle of maladaptive efforts to control the uncontrollable.
The thing about pain and suffering is that when it goes on too long, too chronically, or too intensely, or when it seems like there’s no way out, no chance of relief, or no one to rescue us, then the pain can become a trauma. Desperation can set in.
Whether it’s a state of depression that seems to just creep up at unexpected times; a painful loss such as a relationship breakup or seeing someone we love become hurt, sick, or die; or experiencing a flashback of past times we felt alone, unseen, or abandoned, the suffering state can feel bigger than us. The feeling of losing control of one’s mind and feelings can be scariest at all. Often we suffer despite ourselves. We want to feel happy, to function well at home and at work, to love and to enjoy. We try all sorts of things: coping skills, healthy habits, therapies and treatments, positive self-talk, whatever…because we really want to feel well. But sometimes the pain is bigger than us, sometimes it comes independent of our efforts, sometimes God gives it to us, and sometimes we create it without even realizing we’re doing it.
And that’s the point I really want to talk about here. The point about creating suffering, attaching to our pain, identifying with the martyr position, silently and unconsciously idealizing the victim stance and the fantasy of a pain-free life that often comes along with suffering states of mind.
If pain is something you identify with strongly, if suffering feels like something that you can never escape despite so many efforts to do so, then you might need to change your relationship to the pain. I don’t just mean accepting it and I don’t just mean making meaning out of it. I mean really taking a look at the place the pain holds in your life and in your identity, in your sense of self and your beliefs about the world. What does the pain do for you? Does it make you feel special, holy, absolved of your guilts? Does it give you permission for pleasure? Is suffering a stance that seems to bring assurances of love, relief from tension, unconscious surrender, or a promise for a better future someday? Perhaps pain is all you know and at least it gives you something familiar to fall back on.
The fact that we attach to our own miseries at times does not mean that we consciously intend to do so, that we want to be hurt, or that we don’t crave, like everyone else, for our deepest wishes and longings to be met. It doesn’t mean that we don’t yearn to be loved and accepted, to be taken care of, to play, and to get a break. But sometimes we lose track of our thinking and sometimes we repeatedly do things that unwittingly draw us to situations that reinforce our deepest fears and hurts. We are looking for something and we try so hard, but it never seems enough. And feeling stuck can lead to hiding our deepest fears and to hiding our pain from others for fear of being judged. And that which we hide becomes bigger and bigger inside of us.
Therapy can’t always take the pain away, although sometimes it can!
But letting another person in, bringing them in to bear on your existing psychic economy, can change your relationship to the pain and to the role it plays in how you live your life. Perhaps you’ve tried before and you just don’t want to get hurt again. Perhaps opening yourself up to others seems to make the pain worse. There may be something to that. But there also may be another way.
Want to give a different kind of conversation at try? That space is here for you, without judgment and without agenda. Therapy can be a space of your own to let someone else in and to find a new way of seeing yourself and the world; a different kind of conversation where the ordinary rules are suspended and where a deeper kind of connection can take place.
Are you ready to give it a try?