Learning from life's pain
Why me? It’s a natural question when a family member dies before their time, when a relationship ends, or when we lose a job.
At first, we feel stunned. Deep inside, we expect that our lives should unfold uneventfully. We believe that we should be the master of our fate. Tragedy happens to others, but not us.
At the same time, our culture is filled with pictures of happy, satisfied men and women pursuing their dreams. When we are the victims of misfortune, we can feel let down by life. We may feel that something is wrong with us. We may feel that we did something wrong.
We feel bad
Jim loses his job when his company is bought out by another firm. At first he feels shock, and then anger. But later, Jim feels depressed. In his head, he knows it wasn’t his fault. But in his heart, he feels bad about himself.
Bill and Holly are expecting their first child. After waiting six months to conceive, they are excited! Then Holly has a miscarriage. Through their pain and disappointment, both wonder what they did wrong, despite their doctor’s assurance that it isn’t their fault.
We blame ourselves
When calamity strikes, we are unprepared. We feel that painful experiences and major life disruptions should not happen to us. Our expectations about life do not gibe with reality. This makes us feel insecure. Inside, we believe that bad things happen to bad people. This idea leads us to blame ourselves, even when we know it isn’t our fault.
None of us are alone
The fact is--none of us are alone in calamity. Ask your friends and neighbors; they will tell you their stories. Most of us have encountered a breakup of a close relationship, a death in the family, or a serious illness of a close friend or relative.
The truth is that our lives unfold eventfully. Joyful events are interspersed with painful ones. What gets us in trouble is our expectation that life should only be filled with happiness. We forget that painful experiences are an ordinary part of the life cycle.
When we accept that painful experiences are an inevitable part of our lives, we are better prepared for them. We still feel hurt or sad, but we don’t blame ourselves or feel that there is something wrong with us. Instead, we share our experience with others, because we realize that we are all in the same boat (and it’s a pretty leaky one) when it comes to painful experiences.
Feeling alone in our pain always makes us feel worse. Feeling connected to others helps us feel closer to our human family.
Learning from life
Challenging life experiences help us develop and mature. They teach us compassion for others. We want to reach out to others who are in pain. And, it helps us remember what is truly important in our life.
My step-father was in his mid-fifties when he was diagnosed with a potentially life threatening condition. At first he was shocked, and then became depressed. He had spent all of his time financially planning for his retirement--and now his life was in question. After a while, he decided to help others and he started a self-help organization. Later in his life he told me--”Before I became sick, I was completely involved in planning for the future. I wasn’t living in the present. Now I feel like every day is a gift. Strangely, I feel better about my life than I ever have.”
Steps to take:
There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is an unpleasant sensation; suffering is wishing that you didn’t have pain.
Feel your feelings. Don’t sweep them under the rug.
Feeling sorry for yourself is natural. It’s a way of licking your wounds and healing. Then you can get on with your life.
Choose to learn from your experiences. Don’t see yourself as a victim.
Focus on what’s important in your life. This will help you find your way during hard times.
Share your thoughts!