“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran
We all suffer in our own ways.
For the rich, it’s the superficial circle of friends. For the poor, it’s the struggle of finding food and respect. For the well-settled functional adult, it’s the never-ending scuffle between securing the future and living the dream, and, lastly, for the aspirants—those pursuing an off-center way of living—the journey itself is the suffering.
We suffer collectively as a race, caste, religion, and country. Nowadays, we may also suffer if we resonate with a nonnarcissistic sentiment. But everyone who has ever suffered and survived reiterates the same lesson: it has made them wise.
Does wisdom come to one only after going through hell? Is it worth the fight? What if we die fighting? These seem to churn the brain wheels fast enough to leave the thought and distract ourselves.
Distraction is one popular way to deal with suffering. Social media, casual relationships, drugs, alcohol, and food are the kingpins of this method. The other less sought-after way is akin to the suffering itself. It is through feeling the emotions fully.
It involves accepting the presence of pain, acknowledging it, and honoring its stay. Most therapists and healers champion this method as they claim it to be the only way to reach the root cause of pain. It sounds more like a monk’s goal of life.
But even simply accepting that pain is a part of life seems to be something that only a monk can accomplish. The majority of us want to know why it is there and seek to reduce its blow into our lives and mental health.
We may choose to either divert our minds from the pain or face it, depending on the phase of life we are in. Either way, the first response is to discern why we suffer. Can we at least get a starting point to work from, whenever, and only if we wish to?
For quite some time now, I’ve been reading numerous publications, trying to comprehend all the conflicting viewpoints and heal my own concealed wounds.
I came up with two reasons for the unexplained emptiness and pain of why we suffer:
1. We don’t have a healthy support system.
If we were meant to function alone in this world, why would the universe craft an interdependent network of men and women coming together to make a baby and be called parents? We could have simply been born alone, right? If not, then what is the purpose of those authority figures and the irksome siblings? When children are born, their basic needs are care and safety. They wouldn’t function properly or might not even survive in absence of these two needs.
As we grow older, we become more self-reliant, but we still need people. Sometimes, we even fight for respect, appreciation, and love from the ones we love. The fabric of human life is in the connection with others. When that bond is missing, the impact is less evident and sluggish, but traumatic. A caring and supportive structure of family and friends promote healthier well-being. Our sense of self-worth, motivation level, and emotional processing of failures in life all neatly sit on the frame of this structure.
When we do not have access to such a structure, we rely on ourselves to back, protect, motivate, love, and feed ourselves. The takeaway from living such an independent life is by no means bigger than the amount of loneliness it instills.
With no one to cheer us up after a long day at work, we resort to sources of instant gratification such as social media, alcohol, and one-night stands to glide through the nights. Emotional numbness and a lower sense of self-worth start to develop inside us, leading to isolation and depression.
A similar gloomy way of life is experienced when we have a family, but they inflict more punches to the gut of our confidence and ego than they protect it.
This is a much more vile situation to be in. We live through that hostile environment hoping to be happy once we move out. Moreover, constant exposure to a stressful environment leads to cognitive dissonance, which affects our overall well-being.
Imagine being prey to mean criticism, abuse, and shame from the only people who were supposed to define love and care for you. A feeling of resentment grows inside us for those toxic individuals who call themselves our friends or family.
Now, let’s say we do have a strong and healthy group of friends and an empathetic partner who supports us. Despite that, some of us feel like life isn’t good—as if something major is still missing. Our happiness doesn’t last long, we do not credit ourselves deservingly, and believe happiness is in some other city, year, or person.
This could be because we don’t have the tools that make us feel content and complete. Or it could be the lingering effect of past trauma, especially childhood trauma, as it impacts the brain function more deeply and manifests in every aspect of our lives in adulthood.
2. We suffered invisible trauma.
Trauma, as we know it, is not just the loss of a parent, physical abuse, or witnessing a horrifying event. Growing up in a hostile environment where the sense of security and respect was absent can be as scarring.
Every relationship we get into post the trauma is a challenge to overcome. We need the connection, but our anxiety and out-of-kilter emotions shove it away. So, we either overwhelm others with our feelings or show apathy. We either take up the role of a savior or inflict the same pain we’ve suffered.
What actually happened there was that our understanding of love and connection became twisted. And now, we subconsciously choose overdramatic engagements as they offer familiarity. Normal and healthy relationships based on equality seem boring and worthless.
Our early experiences shape our mindset and understanding of life. Without timely professional intervention, trauma can ingrain self-defeating behaviours that add up to our sufferings. These horrid experiences can trigger many unexpressed feelings in inappropriate circumstances, adding to the shame and guilt we already feel.
Another crack in the wood is from the denial by the abuser and their unwillingness to seek therapy. Some don’t even recognize the pain they are causing to others. Hurt people hurt other people, and the toxic cycle continues. Most trauma survivors end up seeking therapy to restore their own mental health when, actually, someone else needed therapy in the first place.
I grew up in a hypervigilant setting where there was disregard for my identity and feelings. It was impossible to trust or depend on my close ones for any emotional support. So, I relied on myself to have my back.
I rarely expressed myself in front of my family and I turned out to be an anxious and timid person. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I’ve acquired too many self-defeating behavious, and now, it’s my responsibility to abandon them.
This also presented me with an opportunity to reduce the aftermath of past sufferings and create a healthy support group. Once we have the awareness, we’ll automatically begin to find answers, since that’s what the human brain thrives on: finding solutions.
Many of us sail through life under the clouds of suffering without even recognizing what happened and why it happened. But there’s always hope, there are ways, and there would still be a tomorrow. But we must first spend some time introspecting and feeling our emotions fully as they speak a true story that needs our closure.
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