Sometimes We Experience Pain
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2016
We want joy; but life gives more than joy. Sometimes life hurts.
We can’t escape, no matter how fast we run or how well we hide; life is difficult. From our first breath to our dying gasp, unavoidable troubles interfere with expectations, disrupting happiness. Discomforts may be momentary agitations or decade long struggles. Much of our lives, we work through the inevitable pains of existence.
We are programmed to respond to pain, not ignore it. Pain demands attention—a biological design that motivates action to alleviate the torment, allowing the body to rebalance. But our magnificent minds adapt to experience, skirting difficult paths to preemptively alleviate pain. We adapt and integrate responses. Thoughts have a significant role in discomfort, changing meanings and thus weakening or strengthening the impact; protective thoughts often diffuse discomforts. These thought strategies displace pain, sometimes eliminate it, other times postponing it, and unfortunately, occasionally, magnifying it.
Discomfort: Unpleasant emotional arousal
Whether from our stupidity, the carelessness of others or just bad luck, we occasionally suffer. Many times, because of our human imperfect, the hurt is in direct response to something we did; we choose badly and pay a price. The discomfort serves as a warning to make changes.
Learning from Hurt
As part of our imperfect nature, we make mistakes. We create unneeded anguish with poor judgment and intentional action. The consequences may harm others and ourselves. The subsequent emotions trigger guilt. Paul, in the Christian Bible, described guilt as “godly sorrow” which works within us to bring about repentance or change. We can feel sorrow over action. Sorrow isn’t a negative emotion; it’s a discomforting one. Error reminds us of our imperfect humanness that needs regulating to prevent and correct behaviors that interfere with obtaining intentions.
Guilt loses it's helpful pushes when it morphs to shame. When our reflections, turn to personal condemnations, attacking our character rather than the behavior, the benefits stop and damage occurs.
Complexity obscures perfect discernment. We can't draw perfect lessons from every happenings. We must do our best to evaluate, learn and change; even when connections are unclear. The lack of clarity creates space to err.
Cultural and personal narratives intrude on learning, relying on faulty interpretations, distorting realities, and inviting self-serving explanations. Unrealistic expectations transform ordinary experiences into tragedies. Long held beliefs—self or culturally created—configure experience to smoothly fit into confining and 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 rubble that makes life so perplexing. But thoughtful reflection, however, does create order from the chaos.
Causes of Pain
Unfortunately, complexity complicates easy deciphering of the causes for pain. Usually, there are many causes, intertwining circumstances, faulty conclusions, and ignorant choices.
Many discomforts are unpredictable and uncontrollable. They just happen. We encounter unpleasant events, generating feelings of grief, sorrow, and fear. When we experience loss, unfairness, and injury, the events trigger discomforting emotions. The more central an event is to wellbeing the more power it has to arouse biological systems. Relationships, health, and livelihood are at the top of the list, each powerfully impacting both joys and sorrows.
Pain from Loss
Life is transitory. Every beginning also has an end. Each new seeding eventually matures, dies, and returns to the earth. Each life, relationship, possession, and structure begin and end. We experience comfort from boring sameness—no surprises. We grieve the loss of treasured relationships, possessions, or experiences. The sorrow is real and appropriate. The changes awaken the mind, inciting the firing of neurons, to make unplanned adjustments. Our lazy mind groans and thoughts intervene.
Reflection gather missed information and heightens the chance of helpful assessments and effective corrections. We dreadfully must endure misfortune; but with growth, we may learn corrective behaviors to avoid the same misfortunes. Without mindful attention, we are prone to thoughtlessly employ protective thoughts that displace sorrow, pain and guilt. While these mechanisms provide relief, they fail to address underlying demons vexing our lives. The undiscovered spooks remain, continuing to haunt our futures.
Life’s troubles regularly intrude on well-being. While unpleasant, they provide opportunities for deeper examination. Instead of defensively ignoring the personal demons, pulling deceptive covers over our heads, we can illuminate the darkness and discover the imperfections of our own humanness. By opening our minds, we have opportunity to gain wisdom, improve behavior and avoid overwhelm. We may still say, “ouch,” but the inflicted pain has a grander purpose.
Healing from Pain
When discomfort resists corrective response, the failed attempts prompt further anxieties and frustrations. We need avenues of escape. Many times, life experience isn’t sufficient to motivate correct action. We can’t expect everything to fall neatly within our abilities. We can be overwhelmed.
Protective thoughts soften pain when unexpected episodes leave us surprised, dazed, and defeated. Healthy thoughts massage meanings to encourage hope. Thoughts can be harmful as well, projecting, denying, or justifying. Defensive reactions also relieve overwhelming pressures but miss opportunities for growth.
We can't be too proud to seek help, holding hurt inside, attempting to process the injury by ourselves. We need loving and supportive others that lift when we fall. Often, emotional reactions are rooted in biology. We vary in our sensitivity to experience. Whether emotional responses are learned or inherited, our healing may require professional assistance. There is no shame in seeking help.
We humans are resilient. We can rise above the inevitable pains of living. With patience, practice and compassion, we transform life's setbacks into growth, becoming more. Bandage the hurt, treat the soul, and survive victoriously.
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Previously published as Ouch! The Hurts