Our obsession with our happiness has contributed to our unhappiness.
-Tal Ben Shahar
I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that I dislike suffering. While I might theoretically understand the benefits of suffering—the wisdom gained, the empathy learned from connecting to the collective human experience, and the deep and personal growth available on the other side, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’d trade it all in for sunny skies and healthy children. But life isn’t like that.
While there is suffering we are responsible for, I think most of our suffering is simply the result of being human. There is joy and loss; there is birth and death; there is kindness and cruelty.
But in our obsession with happiness, we have denied the existence of suffering, thereby creating a culture where those who suffer are ridiculed, pitied, and scorned. So we, in turn, master our defense mechanisms to deny, deflect, numb or fly away from our suffering.
But, let’s be honest…this never works.
We need to give ourselves permission to be human–to have the full range of the human experiences and not to judge ourselves for times of sadness, fear, anxiety or even hopelessness and panic.
The truth is—if we turn to our felt experience of pain, and if we name it and accept it and allow it and honor it and send it compassion and love, rather than doing our best to rush away as quickly as possible, we will actually be able to allow those very real and very human emotions to pass through us. As they say, what we resist, persists.
So, when I am suffering, I have a practice of putting my hand on my heart (I adapted this from Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion) and I acknowledge my suffering. I name all the emotions. I talk to myself as I would talk to a therapist. And somehow by naming everything, by getting it out—at least to myself—the monster in the closet doesn’t seem quite as big. And then as I acknowledge the painful thought or emotion, I ask myself—can you stay with this right now? I breathe into it, and I just name it and stay with it. Sometimes there are moments of pain; sometimes there are periods of pain. But regardless of the length of the suffering, we need to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we are feeling and not judge ourselves.
And that is just the start. Talk to good friends, safe friends who can handle your vulnerability, and maybe find a good therapist who can help you address some of the deeper issues that might be coming up.
Be gentle and loving with yourself—always. And, give yourself permission to be human.