I tell my kids all the time to think things through before they do it. I challenge myself to do that every day. Before I send an email back, I read it over, sometimes depending on the situation several times making edits. Then, I even will have someone I trust come and read it to make sure I am about to say something that will (1) display the true sense of my character and (2) will help the situation, not cause more problems. The way we handle the punches that are thrown at us says a great deal about our character and can display a great deal about the character of the one or institution throwing the punches. Pain is a part of life. I bet you have heard that before. Life sucks, get over it, kind of perspective, but my meaning is slightly different. Pain is a part of growth and life brings growth. When you are a baby, you grow more in your first year and do so rapidly that it can cause growing pains. You can experience these growing pains in childhood and your teenage years. As a teenager and adult, we grow more emotionally than we do physically, and that too brings growing pains of a different kind.
Learning how to navigate the political tightropes of life are growing pains many adults have to experience, some at great cost to themselves, their careers, and their families. Learning the social workings of cliques in high school comes with growing pains as you practice and experience the social repercussions of actions. These are things no one went through and told you about because they are these unofficial rules you have to follow in life that you usually don’t realize exist until you step on someone’s toes or breach a line you never saw till you crossed it. Life comes with growing pains. Some pain is a good thing. I welcomed pain in childbirth because it meant that I would get to see my daughter soon. Pain in getting a tattoo or a piercing is overcome because of what you know will be the result. Pain is not always a negative thing and often times pain leads to growth.
I was talking to a group of people once about this topic. I compared it to making pottery. A clay pot is created with a purpose. However, it cannot serve its purpose until it has been purified in the fire and hardened. The clay has to be exposed to tremendous amounts of heat before it can fully achieve and perform its intended purpose, much like us in life. I can tell you that I would not be passionate about the things I am today nor would I likely be a therapist working with adolescents, or opening up my own treatment center. Nor would I be doing volunteer connection classes with families of at-risk youth, if it were not for the fires I had to endure as a child and teen. If I could write the story of my life I would be tempted to re-write those sections, but then I hesitate because I wonder, would I still be me if I had not experienced those pains? I don’t believe I would, so I am grateful for those moments in my life that brought a little pain because it taught me how to avoid an even bigger pain and instilled in me a hope to save others from the pain I felt and was witness to. It is the paradox of life that a conflict, a breakup, a painful experience can actually strengthen a person, their relationships both romantic and familial and prepare them for life and the purpose they will find in it.
Pain in life can be experienced as challenges we face, disappointments we feel, obstacles we have to overcome, the pain as a result of a mistake we made that brought consequences to us and maybe the ones we love, or pain can be brought on by the abuse we face by another’s choices. Pain can be physical pain and emotional pain. Whatever the pain you are experiencing, we all can identify with you. No one grows up in life never having experienced some type of pain. As a child, we learn through pain. As a parent, we try to prevent you and protect you from feeling pain, but often the strongest lessons most remembered are the ones that involved a painful experience. For example, my daughter loves to go to the pool, but I have a rule, no running at the pool. My daughter decided to make up her own mind about following or not following the rule, and the result was a skinned and bloodied knee. I tried to protect her, tried to catch her, but she is Ms. Independent. She learned that day why I say no running at the pool. Pain is hard-wired in our body to teach us not to do things that bring pain either emotionally or physically. It is part of our design, and no amount of numbing can stop it.
If pain has a purpose, I wonder what the purpose is of the pain you face now? Do you think there is a purpose? Have you thought about it? If falling and skinning her knee taught my daughter not to run next to the pool anymore, saving her from slipping and hitting her head on the side of the pool, then it serves a very good purpose and I would have her skin her knee again if it meant saving her from an even bigger accident that might cause major injuries. It’s hard to know since we do not know the future of tomorrow or even today. We do not know what would have been if she would not have skinned her knee just as you don’t know what tomorrow brings. It’s hard to imagine that the pain of another hurting you emotionally or physically could ever have a purpose. Trust me, that’s for one far more intelligent than me to comprehend, but I do not think it is an accident that physical and emotional pain are associated with growth. Granted, the intentions of one who is abusing you is likely not intended to help you grow, but I do believe that you are the one with the power to decide if your pain destroys you or can be used to strengthen and empower you.
I went to have coffee with a couple, got to meet their beautiful baby girl, and was honored to hear their story. A story of mistakes and pain that led to life-altering changes. How one individual grew up a cutter, battling suicidal ideations, hallucinations, and visions, being heavily medicated on antipsychotics, told if she had a baby that her baby would be doomed to have deformities. She grew up in the system and was in an out of treatment centers, but her life was changed by some introductions to some really good people who showed her love when everyone else had shown her judgment and pain. She didn’t know these good people were around the corner, but she hoped for something, and it came eventually. Maybe not right when she wanted it, but it came nonetheless.
Her husband shared his story briefly, but his was a road of drugs as a user and a dealer, of gang affiliations, of death, and of prison. I smiled to myself as I talked to them because though my story pales in comparison, I felt understood and real. They were genuine, I was genuine, and because of our being real with one another, we were able to connect and start a friendship. They were both able to experience all of the pains described above and yet those pains did not claim their life. Those pains did not hold them down, hostage to experience the pain no longer at the hands of an abuser or situation, but at their own hands ruminating on the pain thereby replicating the pain in themselves. They were able to be victorious over their pain and not succumb to it. You may wonder how in the world they were able to do that, able to harness the pain, the anger, the isolation, the shame, and turn it into fuel to set their life ablaze to the point that it would attract others to hear their story and be further changed just by hearing it. How can you harness the pain of your life and allow it to be fuel for your pursuit of a greater purpose and mission?
Mind over matter is how. Life is about perspective. You walk into an amusement park, and your first observation is the rides and how exhilarating it will be to get on that rollercoaster, but the first observation of your peers are the two-hour lines. You focused on the positive of the situation while the peers focused on the drawback or the negative. Isn’t it funny how you were super psyched and then they drew your attention to the line and in a matter of a moment you were not as excited as you had been? Perspective changes everything, your thoughts fuel your perspective, and then you respond emotionally to how you view the situation you face. What is your perspective on life, in your current situation? How does your perspective alter the reality of the situation because I will promise you it does? That does not mean that your perspective is wrong, just that it may not be based on the full version of reality but by your emotional reaction to your reality.
Often we respond based on feeling. A situation makes you feel isolated, so you are isolated. You feel like a jerk, so you are a jerk, or loser, or heck maybe the king of the world, but you are not the king of the world, sorry. Do a check real quick and see if your feelings are fueling your thoughts? When our perspective is not based on reality, it is based on something else, and those things are referred to as faulty beliefs, or thinking errors, or some other therapy jargon. The point is, those thoughts are based on your fears and doubts, insecurities and assumptions, or justifications. If your perspective is based on any or all of these things, then you may need to go to someone who is not in the same situation to get some of their perspectives because your’s may be clouded. Remember how I told you at times I will have someone come in and check to make sure the way I’m responding is good and going to help the situation? I do that because I recognize that I may be emotionally clouded in my perspective of the situation and I need someone who I trust that is a little less emotionally involved to help make sure I’m 100% with reality and not going based on my emotions.
Who do you go to when you are emotionally compromised? There are always people out there who you can go to, always. Identify who those or who that person is and go to them about how you feel. If your thoughts are based on those faulty beliefs described earlier, then separate your emotions and attempt to step outside of the box. Get some clarity by talking to someone, getting advice, or just writing it down and sifting through the different thoughts you are having identifying which ones are based on reality or your emotional version of reality. Don’t make any decision based on your emotional state at the time but based on well thought out decisions that have been discussed between you and multiple people for advice and perspective. If you don’t you might experience that pain of learning like I discussed earlier because emotional decisions are often the wrong ones.
I teach a technique that I developed in my work as a therapist using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapy about how your mind controls your emotions and behaviors. That technique is called the Four Pillars, and it is representative of the belief that your thoughts, even the seemingly insignificant ones, build up to formulate your beliefs and therefore your worldview or perspective which all in turn lead to your behavior. The Pillars are (1) Self Talk, (2) Faulty Beliefs, (3) Perspective, and (4) Behaviors. Your Self Talk is your inner dialogue, the little things you say to yourself in your mind that you don’t share with anyone. They are your observations of your environment, your relationships, your thoughts about a person’s reactions to you, how you label yourself, anything that you think in your head about you and the world around you. If you could categorize those thoughts into different subject headings, those would be your beliefs, some are faulty, and others are not depending on what your self-talk is based on. Self-talk based on assumption leads to faulty belief. Then you have perspective, and this pillar suggests that how you view the world will decide how you respond to it hence your behavior being the next pillar. They all build upon one another.
So here is the question, what do you spend your time thinking about. People have attempted to estimate how many thoughts we have per day but I’m just going to throw out a random number of 40,000 thoughts per day that a person has. How many of those do you use fixating on what is bad in the world, focusing on what you don’t have and want? How would you categorize your thoughts? Do they lead you to feel excited about tomorrow or afraid and avoidant of it? What you focus on will become your reality whether it is true or not and no one no matter how positive they try to be or how encouraging they try to be will ever be able to change it because you won’t want to see it. Therefore you won’t.
If you want to change your world, you have to start with how you have chosen to see it. You have to decide if you are fixing your thoughts on those fears and doubts, insecurities and assumptions, and justification. If you are, then you have to decide if you will continue to live your life seeing the world based on those things. You have to decide to open up to another and get their perspective and be willing to accept the feedback they give whether you like it or not. You have to decide that every time you start to travel back down the road of thinking this is forever, things will never change, my pain will never end, I cannot overcome this or doing anything about it, that you will stop yourself and remember the truth you know. This will not last forever just because it is happening now. Just because you feel like this is overwhelming does not mean you will drown in it. Just because it feels like you cannot stop it does not mean you cannot change things. We always have options no matter how small they may seem. Even if the only option you have is found in the controlling of your mind. Is pain going to break you or create in you something new? It is all up to you.
Let me share a story with you. Sadly and to my detriment, I have never read the story of Corrie ten Boom, but I have a friend who did read it, and she shared part of it with me. I would recommend it, and I plan to read it because just hearing this story, I was challenged in my thinking. Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor, and she shares a story of her sister and her being held captive in a concentration camp by the Nazis for helping to smuggle Jews out of Nazi-occupied Europe. They had the chance to stop before being caught, but they chose to continue, aware that they would be found out and likely shipped off. They were, and while living in a concentration camp, she describes being grateful for fleas. Like you probably are right now, I was a little taken aback. How could one be grateful for fleas and lice? As my friend continued recalling the story to me, she shared that it was the fleas and lice that had infested them, that protected them.
When they were being forced to work for the Nazis, they were in this room where soldiers with rifles would hurt them and make them work in silence. When they became infested, the soldiers didn’t want to get contaminated, so they locked them alone in a room unsupervised. They probably had more freedom now than anyone in the camp. They could talk, joke, laugh, share words of encouragement with one another, and have fellowship together, something they had been desperate for and were not able to have before. Fleas and lice gave them this protection and so instead of complaining that this was one more added misery they were grateful and happy that their daily beatings, their starvation, their daily torture had been suspended as a result of fleas and lice.
There are upwards of probably 8 billion people living on this planet. Somewhere is the person who will cure cancer. Somewhere is the next American President. Somewhere is the solution to world hunger, the person who will bring peace. Somewhere out there is a person who will care for you and me at just the right moment that we needed them most, and they will walk away having no idea the impact they just made upon us, but we will remember them in a good way. I have never and will never meet Corrie ten Boom, but just the retelling of her story has impacted my life. I had coffee with a couple who had a major impact of encouragement and hope, and I hope to see them again soon. They took their pain and used it to fuel a life-altering passion that not only changed them but would go on to change the lives of everyone they came into contact with. Corrie ten Boom didn’t know if she would survive that camp. I’m sure she thought that her pain would be the end of her. It was the end of her sister’s life so why not hers. It wasn’t the end of her life, just like it is not the end of yours.