Ouch! The Hurts The stories we tell our selves BY: Troy Murphy |July 2016
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We can’t escape, no matter how fast we run or how well we hide; life is difficult. From our first breath to our last gasp, unavoidable troubles interfere with expectations, disrupting happiness. Discomforts come as momentary agitations or decade long struggles. Much of our lives involve working through the inevitable pains of existence. Our failed attempts to squash discomfort prompt further anxieties and frustrations. We are programmed to respond to pain, not ignore it. Pain’s purpose is to demand attention, design an effective response that alleviates the torment, allowing the body to rebalance. But our magnificent minds discovered an alternative; manipulating thought, changing the meaning of the event, thus weakening the impact; defensive thought diffuses discomforts. These thought strategies displace pain, sometimes eliminating it, other times postponing it, and unfortunately, occasionally, magnifying it.
We need avenues of escape. Experience isn’t designed. We can’t expect occurrences to fall neatly within the realm of our abilities. We can be overwhelmed. Hit by unexpected episodes, smashing us where we stand, surprised, dazed, and defeated. Defensive thoughts play an important role, softening experience, granting meaning, and encouraging survival. Whether projecting, denying, or justifying, we relieve overwhelming pressures. But when over used, defensive mechanisms limit actions appropriate to resolve reoccurring issues. By avoiding personal responsibility to resolve some of the troubles, we miss opportunities for growth. Probing personal behaviors, possibly inviting the subsequent hurt reveals alternate actions to take in the future. The monster under our bed of consciousness loses power once recognized.
Discomfort originates from a variety of causes; many causes are unpredictable and uncontrollable. They just happen. We routinely encounter unpleasant events, generating feelings of grief, sorrow, and fear. When we experience loss, unfairness, and injury, the events naturally trigger discomforting emotions. Whether from our stupidity, the stupidity of others or just bad luck we will occasionally suffer. Many times, in our imperfection, hurt is the consequence to our behaviors; we choose badly and pay a price. The discomfort serves as a warning to make changes. Unfortunately, complexity complicates which events are uncontrollable and which ones are logical consequences to poor choices. As we mature, self-reflection helps limit the obstructions, allowing for a less distorted view of reality.
Life is transitory. Every beginning also has an end. Each new seeding eventually returns to the earth that gave it birth. Each life, relationship, possession, and structure begins and ends. We desire an unchanging experience—no surprises. We grieve the loss of treasured relationship, possessions, or experiences. The sorrow is real and appropriate.
As part of our imperfect nature, we make mistakes. Sometimes through poor judgment, other times through intentional action, we create much unneeded anguish. Consequences of behavior may painfully punish others and our selves. The discomforting emotions can serve as a warning system to make changes. Paul, in the Christian Bible, described the emotion as “godly sorrow” which works within us to bring about repentance or change. We can feel sorrow. Sorrow isn’t a negative emotion; it’s a discomforting one. Error reminds us of our imperfect humanness that needs constant regulating to prevent following cycles of behavior that prevents obtaining worthy intentions.
Complexity blends unpredictability with personal control. We do our best to evaluate, learn and then change; but the connection between behavior and consequence often remains unclear. The lack of clarity creates space to manipulate interpretations. Cultural and personal narratives intrude, distorting reality, often in self-serving ways. Unrealistic expectations transform ordinary experiences into tragedies. Long held beliefs, although self or culturally created, reconfigure reality to smoothly fit within in the confining borders of rigid rules. From the murkiness of complexity, sprouts blaming, confusion and eventually helplessness and depression. There’s no definitive step by step guide for clearing the endless rubble that makes life so perplexing. But thoughtful reflection, however, does help create some order from the chaos.
Reflecting on surrounding events heightens the chance of helpful assessments and effective corrections. We dreadfully must endure misfortune; but with wisdom we may learn corrective behaviors so we don’t revisit same misfortunes. Without mindful attention, we thoughtlessly employ defense mechanisms to displace the sorrow, pain or guilt and then lose opportunities for wisdom. While these mechanisms provide immediate relief, they fail to address the underlying demons creating the discomfort. The undiscovered demon remains, continuing to haunt our futures.
Life’s troubles and the associated emotions of fear, sorrow, grief, and anger will regularly cross our paths. While unpleasant, they provide opportunities for mindful examination, exposing connections between behaviors and distasteful consequences. By opening to the discomfort, we gain wisdom, improve behavior and avoid overwhelm. Instead of defensively ignoring the demons, pulling the self-deceptive covers over our heads, we can illuminate the darkness discovering the fearsome devil was nothing more than the imperfection of our own humanness.