So often people act surprised at the challenges we face in life. This of course creates more pain. Pain truly is part of life and always will be. We have not been guaranteed an easy time. Many difficult things can happen in a life time.
As I wrote in my last article about Eva Egar, who was a survivor of a concentration camp and wrote the book “‘The Choice,” she certainly understood and held true to the idea of choosing her response to the awful situation that she had experienced.
We look at our world right now and see so much pain. It is incredibly sad and yet we still have a choice how we hold pain and suffering—both ours and others.
We all have that choice of how we respond to situations. I see three issues that prevent people from moving through challenges.
- People often wonder “why is this happening to me” when in reality a lot of people are struggling with pain because it is part of being human. Asking “why is this happening to me” creates resistance to the pain, which in turn creates persistence and getting stuck in the pain rather than moving through it.
- People are often surprised by difficult times and not prepared to have difficult experiences.
- We have a choice of how we deal with the pain in our lives—either through the idea of grief and acceptance, or through suffering and hardship.
Looking at these responses to situations, let’s explore healthy ways to manage them that will make less suffering when dealing with pain.
This first lesson took me a while to understand in life: that things are not happening to me, they just happen because they happen. At times it can feel very personal when a partner drinks too much or you get stopped for speeding. In reality these are choices outside of you that others make, even though you might have been driving too fast or chose to stay in a certain relationship. Don’t personalize what happens, but take responsibility for yourself.
Does that sound contradictory? Maybe, yet read it again and you will see that these are two very different concepts. Let’s say someone stole your credit card. Instead of saying “why did this happen to me” (personalizing it), taking responsibility would be asking yourself “what is the lesson here and how do I take care of it.”
Now, this does not mean you cannot have feelings around this—of course you can, but do not get stuck in them. Allow yourself to grieve and then, pick up the phone, report your card missing and learn.
People often get stuck in the surprise of difficult situations. In reality, we do not have much control of what happens outside of us. What we do have control over is how we chose to manage a situation. Being surprised and trying to control events outside of us actually takes up a lot of energy that we could be spending grieving the situation and figuring out how to move through it.
Of course, when the experience is traumatic, being surprised is normal and expected. Yet still, we do not want to get stuck in the trauma. This is when we need help. When we get into difficult situations it is important to pull on our resources, be it family, friends, therapist, finances, or organizations. We are not an island; allow and seek out help as needed.
Exploring ways to manage pain does not mean minimizing how pain affects us. Pain is an incredibly difficult part of being human, yet it is also part of what makes us human.
We have to grieve, it is essential. If we push away our pain, it will make it larger and more painful. Once we have allowed our grief (and even if it continues), we hit a point where it is time to ask “now what?” When we create a story around our pain, such as “I’m bad” or “It’s my fault,” we make the pain larger and more painful, and it starts to infiltrate other areas of our lives.
I have seen this when people have not moved through a divorce, or loss of money, and they spend the rest of their lives living in this pain either through feeling sorry for themselves or angry at the person or situation. This is incredibly sad. They are taking away their lives from themselves.
Choosing to move through the pain never takes away your experience, it just holds it in a place of a painful experience. It will get triggered at times, but you do not live through it every day, all day. We do get to choose that.
As the Dalai Lama said, “We often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, over-reacting to minor things and sometimes taking things too personally.”