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Pain and Suffering: Friend or Foe?

Let’s face it: we all hate emotional pain.

And yet, pain is a crucial part of staying alive.

Take physical pain, for example. If you step on a piece of glass, your neurons fire a signal to your brain that tells it something is wrong. This signal has to be unpleasant. If it were enjoyable, we would all spend our weekends walking barefoot in downtown San Francisco... and quickly die of bacterial infections.

No, Mother Nature knew us too well. She made the sensation of pain to be deliberately uncomfortable so that we would have an incentive to remove that piece of glass from our foot, and make sure that we are more careful the next time around.

The same is true of emotional pain. While it doesn’t feel great to experience, it tips us off to the fact that something is wrong, and gives us incentive to change it.

Take my client Jack, for example. Jack is quite possibly one of the most creative and keen political minds I have ever encountered, and yet he is struggling to figure out how to parlay that talent into a career. When he meets friends at parties and they ask him about his career, he feels a twinge of pain: of embarrassment, of shame, of feeling like a failure. He wishes he would have something great and impressive to report, but he doesn’t.

So Jack does what the rest of us would surely do in his shoes: he avoids the topic, avoids the parties, and distracts himself with Netflix, desserts, and dating. Ah, the magic trifecta of avoidance.

But the truth is, just like with physical pain, Jack’s emotional pain serves a very real purpose that he should not ignore. It is telling him that he needs to figure out his career. Not next month or next year, but NOW. And, just like each time you repeatedly step on that piece of glass in your foot, each time Jack goes to party, it hurts more and more. Until he finally HAS to deal with it.

This pain is a powerful wake-up call that shows you are not honoring something that is truly important to you, and should not be ignored.

Take my client Beatrice, for example. Beatrice’s biggest dream is to have children. She is in her late 30's, and while she has been dating the same man for several years now, she is dragging her feet on committing to him and starting a family. Whenever I bring up the topic of kids, she tries to change the topic. She refuses to do any homework on the topic (and I love assigning homework).

I asked Beatrice why she avoids talking about kids, and she explained that it is because if she really were to think about it, she would be consumed by fear. Fear that she won’t be able to have kids. Fear of the disappointment of getting her hopes up, only to have them dashed. Can you relate?

By avoiding the issue, she doesn't have that fear to remind her of how important kids are to her, and so she "gets away with" moving at a snail’s pace. Instead of making a plan and charging forward, she drags her heels. Now, there are a few things to work out with her boyfriend before they can get married, but feeling her fears would motivate Beatrice to actually figure these things out. Today.

What pain are you avoiding feeling? What is the wisdom it is trying to share with you? Write me a note below and explain yours!

In feeling,

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