Stop responding to pain with pain.
If you were to choose one thing to change about yourself, let it be this.
To date, this has been the single behavioral change I have made that has transformed my life the most, and I’m not one to shy away from change. But this isn’t about how I’m different from you. Because the deeper we dig, the more alike we all are.
Those of us who are wounded or have ever been wounded, we carry similar tendencies when it comes to our conditioned behaviors and defaults. Whether we implode or explode, our rawness and pain take us on predictable paths. Predictable, because they often are the paths of least resistance; our reptilian brains are wired that way. Science and history will tell us that we are far from unique beings—especially when we are in pain.
The only way to stop the trajectory of pain is to jump off this wagon. Pain only fuels more pain. But this is easier said than done and jumping off the wagon is counterintuitive when it’s so easy and thrilling to stay on what looks like a fast and dark ride.
Pain gives us the illusion that we are in control when what we really have become is enslaved to darkness. Pain gives us instant gratification, and that’s exactly how we become addicted to it, by chasing cheap thrills from fleeting things. The only thing pain sustains is more pain—most of us are addicted to it, though few will ever admit to it and fewer are conscious of it.
It’s easier to point to a substance we can see and cast blame upon it, but at the root of every substance is pain—an invisible force that makes zombies out of us. When they tell us that we are our own worst enemies, this is what they mean. They are talking about the pain we carry and choose and won’t let go of. So things don’t get better, no matter how much bank we break on wellness products.
Pain isn’t just a circumstance; it’s also a choice. A choice we can stop making.
Jumping off the pain wagon is counterintuitive because our knee-jerk reactions are to stab right back in the direction they came from, “an eye for an eye.” Revenge and retaliation are some examples of fueling pain with more pain, but most of the time, we aren’t even aware that we are choosing pain as a default response.
So how do we stop responding to pain with more pain?
1. Preface every decision with a question: am I choosing pain or love?
Take a moment to assess the circumstances. Pain wants to take you down a one-way street, but recognize there is always a fork in the road. This is a question that will illuminate the paths ahead, and knowing what is before us will help us make the better decision.
We are capable of derailing from pain just as we are capable of fueling it. One is easier than the other, and that will be whichever you practice.
2. How we fill our time is how we live our lives.
If you want a different life than the one you have now, you must start filling your time differently, with different behavior and different energy. You can’t kill off energy, but you can swap it for healthier choices. Anger is pain projected outward, and it comes fast and furious.
Oftentimes, we don’t have the luxury of time or space to analyze (knee-jerk is just that). But time will pass anyway—whether we choose to become enflamed or still ourselves for a moment to decide otherwise.
When we become truly in control of our feelings, we no longer react; we take the space and fill the wounds with love. Instead of reacting to pain with pain, we can reframe the pain as an alarm that signals to us, “love is needed here.” Once we understand that pain points are indicators of where love is most needed, we respond differently.
3. Be the loser in fights.
If you love the person you are fighting with, why would you want to see them lose? Why would you want to make them lose? Love is not prideful. Love is kind. Love is winning for them, with them, but not against them. Love is protecting them from harm, not causing harm.
If there must be a loser in the fight to end the fight, then be the one who ends it. Peace on Earth starts from peace in our households. Peace, like happiness, is not a result or a byproduct. It’s an active choice.
4. Don’t shut down. Show up.
Pain imploded translates into shutdown mode. Fleeing, ghosting, flighting, hanging up, not picking up calls, retreating, disappearing are all common behaviors of the injured and wounded.
If these are the choices we make when we are faced with pain, then we are simply going further down this dead-end road. Pain can’t heal pain. At best, it can numb us and dissociate us from what hurts. I’ve practiced this for many years, and it hasn’t gotten me better. Healing only happened when I chose love over pain. Do you truly want to become healthy? Or do you love your pain too much to give it up?
5. Attend to triggers with love.
This is most difficult because pain is always violent. It’s counterintuitive to respond to violence with love. But if the triggered person is someone you love, then throw out all reasoning and program yourself to respond to their aggression with love. And see how the energy changes.
We can change everything we are a part of by changing what we put into it. By changing our contribution, we are alchemizing the collective.
Be a source of love, not more pain. Whatever energy you give will compound. Trust me. Distract the wounded with love, and keep doing it. Do it so much that it becomes your default response. It is so incredibly difficult to respond this way after most often an entire lifetime’s conditioning of responding otherwise, but keep going upstream.
Strength isn’t armor or masks or walls. Strength is love. Strength is without skin and unflinching in the face of pain. Strength is the courage to embrace instead of the impulse to lash out.
I’ve adopted this behavioral change for almost a year now, and it’s counterintuitive but deeply magical. No one voluntarily chooses pain once they’ve experienced real love. But the sad thing is, few of us have ever received or given real love. So be the source of that which you seek.
The world is overrun by sources of pain already. Whatever you practice will become easier. The sooner you swap out pain with love, the sooner your life will start to change. Every decision is an opportunity to change your life, for the rest of your life.
Nothing is sustainable unless you fuel it. Life is too precious to be sacrificed to pain, so give it up already, and feel how your life will transform.