How YOU can Transform Pain into Positive Growth
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It’s pretty safe to say that most people don’t like pain. Pain is uncomfortable. It takes us away from our happy place and forces us to deal with stuff we don’t enjoy. Pain is inconvenient, costly, and distracting. Remember that meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!” Yeah, that’s how we feel about pain.
On the other hand, there’s a small segment of the population that welcomes pain. I’m serious. Just look at all those ultra-marathoners and extreme sports enthusiasts. They know pain intimately. It motivates them, pushes them past their limits. Most of us will never understand that drive, and instead will do our best to stay in the pain-free zone.
But what if we ventured outside our little bubble of comfort and dipped a toe into the whirlpool of pain? What is the worst that could happen? I guess we could die – that would be pretty bad. Except that the experience would be over immediately, and we’d never have to deal with it again. So there’s that.
More likely, we would simply be forced to feel something. And for most folks, emotional pain is far worse than a physical hurt. Pull a muscle, cut your finger, break a toe – easy-peasy. Bandage it and take an aspirin. There might be some down time or even a scar, but eventually it will heal and you’ll move on. It’s not that easy with emotional pain, so we tend to fear it more.
Suffering is Part of Being Human
Do you feel the truth of that statement? Suffering is a component of the human condition; there’s no way around it. We can run, we can hide, but we can’t escape. Sooner or later emotional pain finds each of us, and then we have a choice to make. Do we allow it to consume us, wallowing in heartache, or do we recognize the opportunity and use it as a springboard for growth?
In times of great stress, it can be difficult to recognize that we do indeed have a choice. We can give in to an overwhelming sense of loss (or fear, or anger, or sadness), allowing it to occupy all the space in our brain, preventing us from going about the normal business of life.
We can shut down emotionally, moving through life like a zombie, feeding only on our pain. We might give up positive activities like going to the gym or meeting friends for dinner in favor of cocooning on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine.
And there is a time for that. We must allow time for grief, especially when the pain is fresh. That is healthy and normal, and helps us to properly process the full range of emotions.
Unfortunately there’s no yard stick to measure how long the grief should last or how deeply felt it should be. Each person works through it in their own time. But when we get stuck in that cycle where we cease interaction with others and discontinue our normal activities for more than a short period of time it becomes destructive.
Making the Difficult Decision
It’s easy to give in to pain. There are big emotions involved, and the strength of these feelings buoys us, supporting us as we circle endlessly in the whirlpool. The people that care about us are tender in the beginning, trying not to add to our suffering.
But as time goes on and we remain stuck, their energy flags, and they realize they can’t help us stay afloat forever. We may realize it ourselves as well. People who make the decision to grow from their pain often say things like, “I was so sick of myself; I had to change!” But how do you do it?
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
All of them. ALL OF THEM. The virtuous, the sad, the shameful. Pain is complex and rarely composed of a single emotion. For instance, in the case of divorce, the list of emotions could be very long.
You feel the loss of the relationship, especially if it was long term. You probably experience abandonment, despair, or loneliness. You might feel betrayed, cheated, duped. There’s probably quite a bit of anger there, possibly even rage. A desire to hurt your ex, either physically or emotionally is not out of the norm, but that may be accompanied by a sense of shame or guilt.
Certainly there’s a tremendous amount of fear over finances, children, and a change of lifestyle. Let it all come to the surface. The key is to observe, not judge.
Journaling or free-writing can be very helpful, especially if it’s difficult to organize your thoughts. Pick a topic, “My New Home” for example, and write down whatever comes up, no matter how ridiculous or random it seems.
Your brain is giving you clues, and while they may not make sense at first, at some point you will make the connection. A trained counselor or therapist can be a tremendous asset in helping you decipher the messages your feelings are sending you.
2. Reclaim Your Power
There is a lesson for you in suffering. Just as physical pain is a signal to your body that something is wrong, emotional pain reminds us that there are unsettled issues that need to be resolved. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be worth the effort? Absolutely.
Allowing hurt to rule your life is giving away your power. You are not making your best decisions if avoiding pain is the primary consideration. Choose to grow by identifying the root cause of the distress. If you can face that, you have the courage to look for the lesson. Focus on what you can learn from the situation.
3. Take Action
OK, this is hard. Most of the time we humans are not excited about change. We like our familiar routines and our familiar feelings, even if they are self-destructive. But in order to let go of pain, you must do things differently.
The good news is that it can happen incrementally. Perhaps you decide that today, every time you have a negative thought you will counter it with gratitude. You will find something to be grateful for, no matter how small. Do that for a few days then add another step. Perhaps you decide to smile five times every day. That may mean flashing those pearly whites at the UPS man and the grocery store clerk, but there’s nothing wrong with improving their day, right?
Real growth involves change, and change demands action. It can be small, like the examples above, or it can be dramatic, like moving to another state. Every small change builds on the previous step, and reinforces your decision to move in a positive direction. You determine how much you can handle then go for it. And remember to compliment yourself each time you move forward. It may be a while before anyone notices, so you need to be your own cheerleader.
So at its core, growing from pain means facing fear and taking back our power. We do this by giving ourselves permission to feel emotions that we’d rather avoid because we understand that these feelings are the clues we need to work our way out of pain. Suffering holds a lesson for us, and it is our job to learn the lesson so we are not destined to repeat it.
We have a variety of tools at our disposal, from journaling to counseling and therapy and the invaluable support of our friends and loved ones. When uncomfortable or embarrassing feelings arise, we observe them without judgment, knowing that they serve a purpose, and that in time it will all make sense.
We take as long as we need, we step up as many times as necessary, because this isn’t a temporary fix. This is us listening to our own needs, honoring our desire to become pain-free, and discovering new ways of healing the heartache. This is us becoming whole.
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Kimberly Clay is the founder and creative force behind What She Say. She’s a business professional, writer and editor who’s been creating and managing digital content for nearly twenty years. Her work is now focused in the areas of self-improvement and personal development, and she is passionate about helping other individuals, especially women, to find a path for living their best life.