I was stressed! I had ten minutes to take a shower, shave, and get dressed before leaving to take my son to school. Without getting into too much detail, I probably could have started earlier before my walk and workout. Now, I was under the gun and wanted to blame someone. Thoughts in my head strung a racing narrative that confirmed the piling responsibilities and deadlines I had to meet if my day were to be a success. As a result, the interaction with my wife and son was…tense, strained and…my doing. When my wife reminded me that I should have started earlier (or not take so long with breakfast, or shorten the walk, etc.)—I balked. “Okay, I know, but that isn’t going to help me now!”
Many of us know this story: we do something, it causes us (and others) some pain and discomfort, we may (or may not be) confronted, and finally, we just want it to go away. We are always want to avoid any type of stress, pain, bad feelings or discomfort; but the truth is: sometimes, its gotta hurt.
How it Hurts:
Whether we are rushed for time, agonizing over a poor decision we have made, running into hardship after hardship, the stress of being financially tight, the frustration over a protracted argument with a spouse, the loss of a job: “pain” comes in a variety of forms—the same is true in therapy. I often compare my time with clients to the cleaning out an infected or improperly healed-over wound. In order to begin the healing process, we have to do some cleaning—which can be painful, even excruciating.
The pain can be both subtle and overt. It’s easy to feel hurt, saddened and frustrated at some relational difficulties that we cannot avoid, what is most difficult is to accept discomfort, uneasiness, and even avoidance as a type of pain. In the workplace, if we get tense and rigid at the anticipation of teaming up with a coworker, it may help to realize that what we might want to call “frustration” is really a type of pain.
If we are continually being offended or slighted by so many people around us—which can be ever prevalent in a society that takes personal offense at a premium. In our “offense culture” we can easily find things to be upset over—so much so that real tragedy gets drowned out. Not to say that being bothered is not legitimate but its full weight may be found in the reaction, not the initial action.
Personal pain can come in the form we feel and in a form we give. The oft used expression “hurt people, hurt people” may seem cheesy but it holds vital truth. We may not stop and realize how challenging our situation is but we can take a good look at our behaviors (and no, avoiding them does not help!). Therapists will often check those who continually express anger at others for depression. The angry young man isn’t just a cultural catch phrase, it can point to deeper rumblings.
Pain also comes in the form of improperly translated shame. Remember, guilt can be repaid, shame can never be repaid and so it keeps pressing—over and over again. Shame can keep us from change and so has a tendency to be avoided at all costs. The shame cycle goes like this: someone points out an area in which we need change, we feel the sting of shame (usually with the “I’m flawed” narrative), we take offense or feel even worse, which brings more shame—and avoidance—thus continuing our unhealthy behavior.
Why it Hurts:
1). Fear and Avoidance:
When asking the question, “why” we really must be prepared for the answer. The reason I say this is because many of us ask why so that we can point to a situation or a person outside of ourselves. The why question can also help us avoid doing anything about anything. If we continue to ask why then we can sit and rub our chin instead of getting out of our chair. Besides, maybe the reason something is hurting is because we haven’t done anything about it. Avoidance may feel comfortable as we kick the can down the road but it also feeds our shame and does not deal with the problem.
It’s true that we can find ourselves in situations that are painful: a destructive relationship, a harsh work environment, even discrimination, but what we may not be able to change in others we need not accept in ourselves. Take a harsh work environment: Whereas it’s true that snapping up another job can be scary and difficult, it’s also true that we may not be as trapped as we think we are. We are not prohibited from seeking a different line of work, modifying our behavior, or seeking counsel in our situation. I have worked with many who have changed their tack and found encouraging results.
2). Natural Consequences:
Why may also lead us to realize that we often hurt over our own actions and behaviors—hitting our own hand with a hammer will hurt, bad! Looking back on the work example, what we may want to call discrimination someone else may call just rewards (keeping in mind there are different forms of discrimination). We are all want to minimize our role in causing ourselves hardship, what we must be careful of is missing the real issue lest we get ourselves stuck by routinely pointing at situations and others.
When going through pain, it may seem obvious to many around us why but can be very difficult to see for the person in the fight. I have known many who continue to put themselves through the most difficult of circumstances because they feel they just can’t (or don’t want to) change—which could also tie back to the shame cycle. If circumstances snowball and continue to get worse, which causes us to feel the failure so we avoid, so our situation gets worse as more poor decisions are made (you get the picture). I may not want my hand to hurt as I continue to whack it with a hammer but that’s just the way it goes.
Many who suffer with addiction will confess that they hate their situation and their actions, while others in the same boat will want all to go well for them even though they have burnt bridges, strained relationships, lost jobs and continue to use. This sort of “magical thinking” rests on the idea that circumstances should go well because we want them to, not because we should do something different. These stuck folks have a very hard time seeing the natural consequences of their behaviors. In a sense, such consequences are a gift from God that can help direct and shape us for the better. Those who don’t want to accept them will continue to put themselves through pain—all the while trying desperately to avoid it (a paradox any way we look at it).
3) Poor Boundaries:
For the co-dependent, issues may continue to hurt because of the tendency to take on other’s pain. This happens on two sides of a contract: the one comes from the person who always wants to be rescued and continues to avoid the pain of responsibility; the other comes from the one who rescues and can’t see their loved one go through the pain of responsibility. This creates an undue burden on the person who is always swooping in—feeling like they are taking everything on their shoulders and straining under the weight. In this case boundaries work two ways, what we do to others and what we allow them to do to us (or expect from us). Keeping a firm handle on letting “you be you, and me be me” means that, if I am co-dependent, I don’t keep rescuing your or taking your pain as my own. If I am grandiose then I have to accept my pain and not try to demand you deliver me from it. This takes a lot of work but is well worth it!
Hopefully, we all know what it feels like to regret something we have said or done. I know that can sound strange but regret is, actually, a good thing (in good measure) that can indicate we care. Regret can come from mistakes we have made—which we all do! Some may try to avoid regret by not admitting to ever making mistakes. Running across a person who never admits to a mistake is not a pleasant deal; Usually, such people are obnoxious and draining. Regret can also tie back into the shame cycle, in which case we must be careful to use regret as a vehicle for change and thus, redeem what it is there for. To regret for a moment and not a lifetime allows us to see things in proper balance. Remember, if our regret does not lead to change it has a good chance of becoming shame, which is toxic.
5) Confrontation: Me and You Against You:
Many of us have dealt with that loved one: spouse, sibling, parent, child etc. that does not do confrontation well. Being confronted can cause anger, hurt, and avoidance—and for very good reason. Looking back on the Stages of Acceptance we see that avoidance is a common maneuver as we knee-jerk our way to shirking responsibility. But being confronted hurts in a couple of ways: for one, if you come to me with an issue I may attack you because you are the face of what is causing me pain (me against you), but I will also attack you because deep down I know that I am wrong (me and you against you)—which links again to shame. In this I may feel like I can go toe-to-toe with you and all your flaws, but you and me against me can be way to overwhelming—and painful.
One of the most difficult, and needed, aspects of my job can be confrontation. There are many therapists who out right avoid, and feel there is no place for, confrontation (and think so for good reason), but there may come a time when we confront the behavior that is hurting them. If I tell you that hitting your hand with a hammer is causing you the pain you hate so much and then you get angry at me because I point out something you are doing wrong; well, sometimes its gotta hurt! Confrontation in this way can come in many forms and most certainly not on the first meeting. When rapport is built, trust established, and a good alliance is made a gentle question or observation can be both needed—and painful! I try to be very careful in gauging the situation and even ask “So what would you like to do?” before I just lay it on. Because of the tender nature of the situation I will often wait until I am asked—making every attempt to not gratify my own goals and visions for the client I help.
Why it Needs to Hurt:
Bad decisions, poor life choices, uneasiness, confrontation—there seems no end to the list of stuff that hurts. What is important to remember is that we, as people, are want to avoid pain, sometimes at all costs. In this way (and I’ve said it before) we treat pain like a burning building, we go the opposite direction in hopes of having it just go away. The problem is that many of our issues are engulfed in the flames of pain—avoid the flames and the problem never changes. That is why I try to help clients “run into the burning building”, put out the flames and face the problem (and the pain) head on. In doing so it helps to recognize a few of the following:
How to Deal With the Hurt:
Not dealing with the pain is not dealing with the issue. Whether we are confronting ourselves or someone we are close to we have to accept that sometimes its gotta hurt! Simply put, we deal with the hurt by facing it, appreciating it, and allowing it to hurt so we are motivated to do something different. In this we must realize that there is a type of hurt that brings life and another type that brings death. The hurt that brings life is one in which we say “ah, yes, I did that and I am wrong. Thank God I have a chance to know what I have done and to change!” The hurt that brings death is the one we avoid, with the idea that to accept the need to change means we are hopelessly flawed and unable to recover. It is a lie to believe that by accepting and facing responsibility we are somehow irreparably damaged. We also need not wallow in our pain. If it hurts, then look for ways to change it—first ourselves and then our situation. Remember, the support of good friends and an insightful counselor can help. If you or someone you know is in need of extra support, go to our website www.downeyparkcounseling.com or like our Facebook page at Downey Park Counseling Associates.