The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.
For many of us we live in a one person melodrama vacillating between feelings of peaceful content and defeated misery as our inner emotional world controls us like a Marinette on strings. In any given moment feelings of confidence and joy can be swiftly swept away by returning feelings of shame and fear. It is the spontaneous and intermittent changes in life that create the story line but it is our ever evolving emotional world generating the drama.
Because of a fierce aversion to difficult emotions such as fear, discouragement, shame, confusion, loneliness and despair we live with a belief that if we fight or work hard enough we will be able to avoid or overcome such emotions. That a panicle moment will come when we “Finally Get It,” where the painful struggle of falling apart, feeling bad or overreacting has ended and we face ourselves and life unaffected and with ease. Peaceful perfection has finally been achieved.
It is wonderful to have a strong determination and a high standard for yourself but the tyranny of expecting emotional consistency and perfection sets you up for toxic defeat. Painful emotions can and do descend upon you even uninvited, it’s just not possible to completely avoid ever feeling bad. The problem is that instead of seeing your emotions as a loving ally providing you information about what is going on they become the antagonist adding even more to your suffering.
No matter what your experience in life resistance, self judgment and criticism will only worsen the situation. We resist difficult emotions by distracting ourselves with destructive behaviors like addictions, in searching endlessly for answers or in avoidance and denial hoping the feeling will just fade away. However, some of the worst pain any of us can feel is self inflicted from our own criticism or self judgment. With cruelty we chastise ourselves for not managing our emotions, reactions or old behavioral patterns and unfairly compare ourselves to others for being psychologically weak. It is this hypercritical and punitive approach that is a losing strategy not in experiencing the vast world of your emotions. The fact of the matter is that emotional maturity, strength, fortitude and grace can only be developed by practicing being you in this world.
So instead of fighting hard against painful emotions treat yourself with the same gentle compassion that you would with anyone who is suffering. To have compassion for your suffering does not mean that you wallow in self pity, feel victimized or express intolerance with yourself. It means, as researcher Paul Gilbert, states that “Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of self and others and a commitment to do something about it.” Compassion is a form of acceptance it’s about accepting yourself when you are in pain. It allows you to fail, make mistakes and accept your imperfections more gracefully while you achieve mastery in this life.
Most significantly is how the benefits of having self compassion extend to others. As Gandhi stated “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Our world and all of humanity desperately needs the healing power of grace, loving kindness, understanding and compassion to recover from generation of harsh oppression and competitiveness. Therefore it must begin with you.
The initial step in caring for yourself during a difficult time is to bear witness to your own suffering. Be mindful, without harsh judgment, to what you are feeling. Secondly, recognize that you have been through many life experiences that have shaped you and how you will perceive the world. Consequently, your emotions and reactions are based on these past experiences they are not a weakness or a fault they are coming forth to be acknowledged and healed by you. Therefore, it is critical that you patiently respond to yourself with supportive kindness and consideration in an effort to move beyond the emotion. Finally, realize that although your suffering can feel isolating you are not alone. Imperfections, mistakes, failures and suffering are all apart of a shared human experience. Life can and is messy sometimes but we are all here to learn and grow together.
Above all remember to persevere with faith, hope, love and kindness.
Bio: Colleen Mondor LPC, NCC, owner of Orchard Hills Counseling Center in Washington Township, MI, is a licensed and nationally certified psychotherapist This article is meant to provide information and suggestions-only.