We all experience pain in our life. We can’t escape it. So if it is inevitable, how can we make sure to deal with it as fast and as smoothly as possible? In this article, you will learn how to not let pain define who you are and break free from suffering.
I think if I would start this blog by saying that suffering is a choice, most people wouldn’t read any further. Well, I did… Are you still there?
You are probably feeling upset because if this statement is true, it means that you are responsible for your own state of being. In general, we rather blame others or the circumstances for the way we feel. By doing so, we take ourselves out of the equation and embrace the status of the victim.
Ok, maybe you start feeling annoyed now. If that’s the case, I think it might be a good time to reflect on why those words are irritating you.
You might think, “that’s not fair to say that, this […] happened to me! It’s not my fault, I didn’t choose it!
We cannot change an event. We cannot control everything that is happening to us. But…
An event is neither good nor bad. It is the meaning we give to it that will change the way we feel.
We all go through difficult experiences in our lives, this is part of it and this is what makes us grow. But we also really quickly judge an event and try to label it as good or bad because it gives us a certain sense of control.
We want things to be “good” and when they are not, we feel hurt, disappointed, depressed. “It doesn’t matter what you look at, it is what you see”
Pain vs Suffering
Pain is an unpleasant sensation. It can be physical, emotional, or both.
Suffering is what we do with that pain.
Pain has a specific purpose, it is a signal from the body or the mind to tell us that something needs to be addressed.
Suffering appears when we are focusing on how the pain makes us feel. The danger is to ignore the pain (the signal) and stay stuck in our experience of the pain. It is about how we experience the pain that will create sadness, anger, frustration, depression,…
It is possible to have pain without suffering, for example when people push the limits of their body in physical activity or even when you eat spicy food. In this case, you experience the pain but choose to not suffer because you enjoy the feeling. Suffering is a state of being, it is optional.
Is pain good or bad?
Pain is neither good nor bad. It is just a notification that something is not right. It is a signal carrying a message. In this stance, pain is inevitable and we should be grateful for it.
Without pain, we would not be able to adjust the way we live and we would die without warning. Or live unfulfilled and miserable without knowing what to change.
Spoiler alert! You experienced pain in the past and you will experience pain again in the future. You can’t avoid it. But suffering, is a choice.
How to avoid suffering?
If pain is inevitable, the only thing we can do is learning how to not let ourselves dive deep into suffering. We were born knowing how to deal with pain but we forgot growing up. In my opinion, it is not completely our fault, the society makes us use our past to define who we are.
Look at how a child is dealing with pain. Simplified, it looks like this:
3. Full expression of the experience of the pain
4. Let go
The time frame for a kid to go through those four steps is pretty short. The main reason is that they live way much more in the NOW than adults. By living in the present, they acknowledge the pain and fully experience it. Then when the signal of the pain is fading away, they let go.
We grow up we tend to spend more and more time reviewing the past and rehearsing the future. When we experience pain, we enter into suffering because we don’t want to have the pain, we refuse to accept it and wish it never happened. Suffering is a really dark place to be, so we try to find ways to escape without dealing with the pain.
People commonly try to find relief in drugs, food, alcohol, work, sex,…Those are not effective. But I guess you know that already.
If your daughter would come to you explaining the struggles she is going through, I guess your first advice would not be to drink a few glasses of whiskey. Well, I hope…
Although it isn’t working, the illusion of relief is attractive. But the truth is that a temporary escape is not gonna help, it will just prolong the period of suffering. We can stop suffering when we actually observe the pain and understand that it is non-permanent. The sooner we let go, the faster we will stop the suffering.
Deciding to not suffer doesn’t mean there was no pain at the beginning. It doesn’t mean that the pain is ignored. It simply means that we decided to not let the pain we experienced in the past defines how we will feel in the future.
When you ask yourself “Why me?”, you dive into suffering and focus on what already happened. Altering your perspective takes practice and wisdom. It takes the ability to know that one day it will be fine. And decide to come to this day sooner than later. Because why wait?
Does suffering longer make the pain bigger?
It seems that there is a social script that says that the longer you are suffering the more important the pain must have been.
We tend to connect more easily with people via hardship than joy and because we are social beings we like to be acknowledged. Have you ever noticed how quickly we connect with someone suffering from a similar problem?
Sometimes I ask myself, am I suffering because I can’t deal with the pain or because I want the world to acknowledge my pain? Do I really believe that if more people know that I am in pain, I would be able to deal with it better? That is non-sense.
We see a lot of people playing the victim so they can get more attention and care. Sometimes even making the suffering bigger than the pain. Or simply thinking that if they don’t suffer enough, people will think that the pain wasn’t that bad after all.
Who the f#*^ cares? Seriously…
Choosing to play the victim is dangerous because you soon become your story, and let the pain define who you are. The more you make this situation familiar the more you are likely to stay stuck with it.
Now, don’t take me wrong, I do believe it is very important to have people we can count on to support us and listen to us. But there is a difference between sharing your pains and rambling about your suffering.
In 2018, I miraculously survived a tsunami and an earthquake. Believe me, it was a traumatic experience. It generated a lot of emotional pain, luckily just a little bit of physical pain. I was lucky, that could have been way much worse.
For weeks I was dealing with PTSD. The suffering was intense, I was in a very dark place. And although I was telling myself that everything is gonna be fine, at that moment, it felt like there was no way out.
One day I had an insight. For all the people and friends that lost their lives, I had the duty to make the most of mine, being lucky to still be alive.
I was a victim. I became a survivor.
Same event, different perspective. The pain didn’t change, but the suffering faded away.
The pain affected my mood. My mood was becoming my temper. My temper would have soon defined my identity. I could have let this brief impactful experience change completely who I am. I could have lived miserable my whole life, people would have asked why I am so bitter and the answer would have been; “well, 30 years ago he survived a double natural disaster.” No. Something that happened in an instant is not going to define my whole life.
To be really honest with you, there have been times when people said “that must have been so hard”, and after answering “yes it was, but it’s ok now”, I could hear their mind saying” oh well if he is already feeling good, that must not have been that dramatic”. Not sure if anyone thought that, but I did. To the point that I started doubting about telling that I was dealing with it pretty well.
Another example would be someone having his/her partner passing away and remarrying a year later. I’m sure people would dare to judge and think, “well, he moved on quite fast, that’s disrespectful”. Really? Do you have to suffer longer to prove that you are hurt? Is the longer you suffer an indication of the depth of your pain?
Car accident: 1 month
Death: minimum 1 year to a lifetime
Broken arm: 2 months
Break up: minimum 5 months
That’s ridiculous but sometimes it seems that there is an unspoken rule about it.
Why is it so hard to let go?
It is challenging to let go mostly because we don’t want to accept that this or that happens to us. We try to resist something that we can’t change. We wish it would be different but have no power over it. What happened, happened, there is no way to change the past.
The difficulty lays in our acceptance. The longer we will live in denial or wish for something different the longer we will suffer. In our reluctance to accept ‘what is’ we start to identify ourselves with our suffering. We hang on somehow hoping that things can suddenly change, refusing to let go and face the reality. If we do it long enough, the suffering becomes familiar, and it becomes who we are.
Once again, letting go of the suffering doesn’t mean that there was no pain.
How to make pain your superpower?
Pain can be awakening. It can be used as a big motivator for change.
Let’s use an example:
Someone tells a chubby person that he should be careful with his health because being overweight is really detrimental to his quality of life.
The person is vexed. That hurts, nobody ever said that before. He doesn’t appreciate the comment = Pain.
“Well, he is right, I’m a bit too fat, I wish I should eat better but I can’t, it is just who I am, I will be fat forever, it’s not really my fault, because this and that happened to me.”
“Well, he is right, I got to do something NOW. It’s time to change, I don’t want to be fat. I want to be a fit and healthy person!”
Same situation, but in scenario A the comment will generate pain and lead to suffering. In scenario B, the pain will be turned into motivation, determination, and commitment. You can choose to be a victim of the pain of a survivor of the pain, and that makes the whole difference. You can turn the pain into learning and growth. That’s the reason we experience pain after all.
I really believe in order to deal with the events of life we need to accept life as it is. Life is just the way it is supposed to be: unpredictable, good, bad, ugly, great,… The moment you realize that life is happening for you not to you, your world switch!
Have you ever heard the story of the farmer and his son? If you did, just read it again and let it sink even deeper.
Once upon a time, an old farmer lived in a valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived a peaceful life despite a lack of material possessions. They were very happy. One day, the old man borrowed money from the neighbors to buy a young and beautiful horse. The very same day he bought it, there was a huge storm. The frightened horse jumped the fence and escaped into the hills.
The neighbors came to express their concern, “Oh, that’s too bad. How are you going to work the fields now? And how are you going to repay us?” The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”
A few days later, his horse returned to the farm bringing with him another eight wild horses. The farmer took them all and built a taller fence so that the horses couldn’t escape. The neighbors again gathered around, “Oh, how lucky! We thought you were destitute, but look at you now, you can do much more work than ever before!” they said. The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”
The next day, the farmer’s son fell off one of the new horses and broke his leg. “Such misfortune,” said the neighbors. The leg healed crookedly and left the son with a permanent limp. The neighbors were concerned again, “Now that he is incapacitated, he can’t help you around, and he’ll never find a fine wife. That’s too bad.” The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”
Soon, the news came that war had broken out, and all the young men were required to join the army. The villagers were sad because they knew that many of their sons would not come back. The farmer’s son could not be drafted because of his broken leg. So the neighbors gathered around again: “How lucky! You get to keep your only son!”
The farmer shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?”
And the story goes on forever.
How to not let pain control your life?
I want you to slow down for a moment and reflect on how many times in your life has something bad happened that then turned into a blessing? I am sure you can think of a few examples. Write them down.
– Why did you label those events bad in the first place?
– How did you experience the pain?
– What had to happen for you to change your perspective on the situation?
Now, when you look back, is it not true that the suffering was not really necessary?
Think of a situation today where you are suffering and ask yourself those same questions. I know it is challenging. We can’t see the whole picture and take distance right away. And even if we try to detach ourselves, there is not so much meaning to be found.
What we can do is keep in mind that we can only see the tree and not the forest and ask ourselves what might be good in this? And if you can’t see the good thing in it yet, you can still start trusting life. “Sometimes beautiful gifts come wrapped in ugly paper”
The traumatic experience I had a few years ago changed my life for the better. It was extremely painful but made me grow. I still have nightmares of it, but I am wiser now. I suffered but it was also the trigger that helped me find my purpose.
The pain is still there but despite the trauma, I live my life to the fullest and support others to create their best life. I speak in public, inspire people and work with individuals. I have an impact and live an extraordinary life. I wish it never happened but in some ways, I am grateful for it.
This was a beautiful gift. Even though I received it wrapped in a very, very ugly paper.
In a nutshell
There will be suffering in your life. You can’t escape it. What’s important is how to deal with pain.
You can decide to be wounded or to become wiser.
You can decide to be a victim or to become a survivor.
You can choose to live in a beautiful state, no matter what.
You can choose to not let the pain control your life and define who you are.
Remember that pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. Some people will suffer for a week, some people will suffer for their whole life. Many will not realize that in the end happiness is a choice.
And you, what will you choose?
Ps: I highly recommend you to read the book: “Man’s search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.