The Cost of Avoiding Pain

January 19, 2016 | By | 2 Comments

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end;
if you look for comfort, you will get neither comfort nor truth,
only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

—C.S. Lewis

Most of our big fears will be realized. I’m an optimist and a “create your reality” kind of guy but let’s face it, shit happens. As much as we fear dying, losing a loved one, having an important relationship end badly, being fired, demoted or overlooked in our work life, or getting sick, at some point, we will experience many of these things.

Pain is Inevitable but Suffering…

Pain is part of the human experience. For instance, pain comes with aging and the accompanying graying, wrinkles and slowing. Yet resistance to aging is futile. In fact it’s our resistance to the reality of pain that creates suffering (and big money for plastic surgeons!). Zen Master Joan Halifax says, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

cost-of-avoiding-painThe more we suppress or avoid pain, the more we suffer because we don’t fully experience and process our pain. We do this because we were taught to do it. We see our parents avoid their emotions. Others tell us to “not be so sensitive.” In the course of shutting down our emotions and avoiding our pain, our emotional energy turns inward creating depression or anxiety, or it leaks out to others and gets in the way of our aliveness, success and intimacy. Franciscan writer Richard Rohr says, “If we don’t transform our pain we transmit it.”

Suffering and Passion – Two Sides of the Same Coin

The word passion comes from the Latin word for suffering. When we try to dodge pain or cover it up with our various forms of escapism like working, drinking or shopping, we rob ourselves of our aliveness and passion. When a mid-life client talks to me about his or her boredom or depression that persists in spite of big professional success, we start looking for past pain that was not fully processed. We don’t need to analyze or re-experience our past trauma but we do need to somehow learn to embrace it in order to mine the gold that lies beneath our unprocessed pain.

Our authenticity is often found in the substrata of our consciousness. Layers of hurtful stories built up over a lifetime start to see the light of day once we slow down long enough to experience our emotions. When our priorities shift and having a big net worth is no longer the Holy Grail, we begin to focus on things like relationships and self-acceptance. This shift in what’s important often causes us to realize we have buried our pain. It’s hidden beneath or inside our old shadows or beliefs about ourselves that get in the way of our natural capacities to feel, be vulnerable and express our real truth, the essential ingredients for a passionate life.

Successfully Navigating Transitions

I’m sad my youngest child is heading off to college this fall. My daughter will graduate college next year, start her career and most-likely move out of the house forever. At the same time, I am excited for them and looking forward to the empty nest. Yet if I don’t fully ingest the emotional impact of these transitions I may end up unconsciously managing my kids’ lives, spend too much time worrying about their well-being, and not be present or passionate about the next chapter of my marriage and life.

Are you in the midst of a transition? Transitions are often accompanied by fear or pain. Tell-tale signs include: edgy or irritated moods, feeling stuck or confused about what’s next, over committing, over doing, over drinking, over almost anything.

Make 2016 different by approaching pain differently. Stop running from pain. You’re creating more suffering. Do something counterintuitive and counter-cultural; lean into your pain. Share your emotions with the friends and loved ones whom you trust can serve as mirrors and witnesses. Go outside your comfort zone in your executive peer group, Mastermind Group or YPO Forum. Start journaling. Embark on a daily practice of getting quiet and still and take an emotional inventory. Hire a coach. Get just a bit more real with people about how you are doing.

Welcome the pain. See it as a teacher that’s calling you to feel, grow, and give yourself permission to be human. Resist the impulse to pick up the remote, your phone or your favorite distraction and, instead, slow down and get curious, and even grateful, that you are alive enough to feel pain and conscious enough to do something with it. In so doing you create a new neuropathway that leads to compassion, connection and passion.

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Executive coach, top team facilitator, author and speaker. I work with individual leaders and their teams to help navigate personal and professional transitions and to increase leadership capacity and improve communication and relationship skills. I founded my coaching firm in 2001 following 12 years asa CEO. Check out more on me and my coaching process in my book "The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Move from Success to Fulfillment and Others Don't"

Comments (2)

  1. Chip Doro

    Hi Brian, This post made me think of the newer film Insideout. In the film, Sad, starts out being a bit of the bad person. By the end, she is found to have a powerful effect and the team sees her part in our dance. If you have not seen the film I’d encourage it! Keep the posts coming! Chip

    • Brian Gast

      Chip – I love this movie – a great way to increase our emotional intelligence and embrace all our emotions – another tool to use for radical self-acceptance.

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