Ouch! The Hurts The Pain of Life Setbacks BY: Troy Murphy |July 2016
Stock Adobe Royalty Free Images
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 motivating action to alleviate the torment, allowing the body to rebalance and rest. But our magnificent minds adapt to experience, skirting more difficult paths while still alleviating pain. We adapt and integrate responses. Some responses simply manipulate thought by changing meaning and thus weakening the impact; protective thoughts often diffuse discomforts. These thought strategies displace pain, sometimes eliminating it, other times postponing it, and unfortunately, occasionally, magnifying it.
When discomfort resists are corrective response, the failed attempts prompt further anxieties and frustrations. We need avenues of escape. Many times, life experience isn’t sufficiently wise to prompt the correct action. We can’t expect all occurrences to fall neatly within our abilities to respond. We can be overwhelmed. When hit by unexpected episodes that smash us where we stand, leaving us surprised, dazed, and defeated, protective thoughts may soften the experience, massage the meaning, and give hope. Whether projecting, denying, or justifying, our thoughts can relieve overwhelming pressures. We miss opportunities for growth.
We are not powerless to the nasty underpinnings of motivation. We can search a little deeper, probing personal behaviors and protective thoughts for effectiveness, and determining alternate actions to take in the future. The monster under our bed of consciousness loses power once recognized.
Many causes of discomfort 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 trigger discomforting emotions. Whether from our stupidity, the stupidity of others or just bad luck, we occasionally suffer. Many times, in our imperfection, hurt is a direct consequence to something we did; 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.
"Whether from our stupidity, the stupidity of others or just bad luck, we occasionally suffer."
Life is transitory. Every beginning also has an end. Each new seeding eventually 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.
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 the emotion 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 behaviors that interfere with obtaining intentions.
Complexity obscures exact evaluations separating unpredictable events from those events we have a measure of 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 err with the interpretations. Cultural and personal narratives intrude, dragging in faulty axioms, distorting reality to fit self-serving explanations. Unrealistic expectations transform ordinary experiences into tragedies. Long held beliefs—self or culturally created—reconfigure reality to smoothly fit confining and rigid rules. From the murkiness of complexity, sprouts blaming, confusion and eventually morph into 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 create some order from the chaos.
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 and the associated emotions will regularly intrude on the comfort of well-being. While unpleasant, they provide opportunities for deeper examination that exposes missed associations between our actions and the distasteful consequences. Instead of defensively ignoring the demons, pulling the self-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.