You take action because you really want something or you really don’t want something. There is the moving towards the things you want: a promotion, better health, deeper relationships, more fulfilling work. Or there is the moving away from the things you don’t want. These things bring you pain and discomfort and you are strongly motivated to get rid of the cause. The pain and discomfort of poor diet, too much or too little exercise, financial pressure, career or relationship stagnation, feeling life is on hold. You want to move away from those things and the pain and discomfort can be powerful inspiration
The beauty of pain and discomfort
However, have you noticed how you’re willing to put up with all kinds of mild discomfort? A stone in your shoe you might put up with. You might let that go on for a while? The pain might get worse over time, spurring you to take action eventually. Do you notice that the mild discomfort points towards a potential issue that if left untreated, will lead to greater discomfort and pain later on?
On a walking trip years ago, I ignored the discomfort caused by a stone in one of my boots. Rather than deal with it, I walked on. Gradually it got worse until someone noticed I was limping. In fact, it became almost impossible to continue the trip. It took several sessions of physiotherapy to get my body back to alignment and time for the skin on my foot to heal. I wish I had acted on the minor discomfort before it got really painful.
Physical and emotional pain
This physical example could be a metaphor for any number of life’s challenges and situations. Lack of fulfilment in a career or relationship? Food and drink choices that leave you feeling bloated, drained, hyperactive or with any number of mild or less than mild reactions? Excessive exercise that leads to injury or delayed recovery? Too little exercise that leaves you lethargic or restless? Caring for others that leaves you with no energy or time for your own well-being? Putting up with stress that affects your physical and mental balance? Choosing to continue with patterns of behaviour that do not serve you?
When I speak to clients, or friends and family for that matter, what I hear people say is that discomfort seems manageable somehow. That if I keep going, things will work out. It’s not that bad. It’s nothing important. Or perhaps they feel stuck and say things like “I can’t do anything different” or “I haven’t got the time/ money/ support/ opportunity/ resources/ intelligence/ talent to change”. What I ask them in response is:
”What are you willing to tolerate or put up with?”
This often leads to an open and frank exploration of their pain and discomfort and how they want things to be different.
The truth is, pain and discomfort have a function. They tell you something needs to change. Whether physical or mental, pain and discomfort appear in your life for a reason. It’s your way of telling yourself things are not as they should be. There is a part of you saying that you want to do something different.
So why is it that you will put up with discomfort for ages? Why will you wait for it to get painful, perhaps REALLY painful, before you will do something about it? Here are some ideas:
It’s not that bad
You tolerate your discomfort. Perhaps it’s been like this for so long you can’t remember how life is like without it. May be you think this is how life is meant to be? I noticed that seeing others experience great joy for example led me to wonder why I don’t experience great joy. So I have explored that pain/ discomfort in myself. A habit of acceptance and following rather than leading and taking the initiative has meant I have done less of what brings me joy. As I lead more and take responsibility for my own joy, I do more of what brings fulfilment in my life and joy follows.
You think you deserve your discomfort?
Not feeling good enough or ‘punishing’ yourself for past mistakes can leave you trapped in patterns that lead to more pain. I see people who grew up being told by parents or teachers that they were ‘naughty’ or ‘stupid’ children, live out limitation and denial in spite of their accomplishments. Seeing that pattern in life as a projection of past indoctrination can free a person and bring about more fulfilled living.
Change is hard/ doing it differently is difficult
It can seem easier to keep doing what you have always done. Change takes so much effort. Yet maintaining the status quo takes effort too. Just different effort. Taking the time to practice life-affirming habits can change more than what you do in life. It can shift who you are being and your impact on your world personally and professionally. As I practice self- acceptance I notice how I accept others more readily. This gives them permission to accept themselves.
Everyone else is doing what I’m doing
There are things we are doing in society that aren’t working. Why are we still doing these things that harm us and cause us pain and discomfort? The reason is because this is what we have always done and everyone is doing it. This doesn’t mean it’s in our best interests. The sedentary lifestyle so many of us lead is so bad for our health and well-being yet the trend is growing not slowing. We all feel so much more alive and engaged when we move, yet the trend is to remain on our behinds. Let’s go for what we know is best for us intuitively rather than follow the crowd.
The power of community can work for and against you. Friends, colleagues and family can hold you in patterns of limitation if they support behaviours that keep you stagnant. Conversely, they can support your growth if they role model and advocate growth mindsets.
Don’t want to rock the boat
Change mixes things up. It ruffles feathers and puts people’s noses out of joint. Yet the pain of conformity can be overwhelming. I was made to conform to religious doctrine as a child. I fought it and eventually found my religious freedom. Not without causing some upset I admit. But it felt more authentic to me. I do not judge those that instilled their beliefs in me. They did it out of love. But it wasn’t for me. Balancing boat rocking with compassion is important.
It will go away if I ignore it
The immediate challenge may disappear but the inner source of the pain/ discomfort will not go away until it is faced head on. Filling your time with busyness like over- eating, binge-boxset-watching and other avoidance behaviour can create the illusion that the pain is going away. In truth, you’re just avoiding it.
I believe you have to understand the source of your pain before you can be free of it. If not, new challenges will come and niggle that pain in the future. For example, needing validation from parents. I have asked for that for years from my parents and never got it. Once I faced that need, I realised the gap in myself and filled it with my own self-gratitude, acceptance and appreciation. Which is all we can do. As a consequence, my parents appreciate me a lot more now!!!
I’m too busy to change
We are all busy. It can sometimes seem like a backward step to find more time in a busy schedule. Instead, take the time and swap out something that is not serving you for something that is. Rather than sit and watch TV to relax, go for a walk, listen to music, take a hot bath. Say “no” to more time on Facebook and say”yes” to more time talking with friends face to face. It’s not about more time. Instead, use the time you do have to create the life you do want.
You don’t want to deal with all your pain at the same time. Putting things off creates more pressure and stress and prolongs the pain/ discomfort you feel. You might not want to face the tough stuff. I get that. The sooner you do though, the sooner you’re free of the pain you feel. Get the support you need and take it one step at a time when you’re ready. Having someone to champion and cheerleader you is invaluable. We are social creatures so having community supports us in all our ventures.
What if it doesn’t work?
There is the fear that change will make things worse. The expression “better the devil you know” crops up here. When you make a stand for a more fulfilling life you may experience more pain. It’s simply pointing the way to what you need to do differently. If you want to get fitter and you over do it at the gym or run too far your body will tell you. Or perhaps you keep having arguments with your partner when you talk about a challenging topic? The discomfort and pain deepen very time you speak about it.
This doesn’t mean stop totally. It means do things differently. What should you do instead? Run less far perhaps. Lift lighter weights. Build up over time. Healing wounds in relationships takes many conversations not just one. Perhaps taking a different tack would help like learning active listening skills or having counselling. You can learn more about active listening in this video:
It’s a process and pain/ discomfort tell you to makes changes. If the pain is less or absent you’re moving in the right direction.
I’m so used to it, I don’t notice there is anything wrong
We have a great capacity to endure. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s also a downward spiral because you’re doing more of what will bring you more pain without even realising it.
Listening to friends can be helpful here as they give you a more objective perspective on your situation. If they’re concerned about you and you think nothing’s wrong, perhaps they are pointing to something you can’t see or feel. It might be worth taking a look anyway. Before my wife and I separated, family and friends expressed their concern for my well-being. I thought I was fine. My brother finally pressed me to talk about things and it became apparent all was not well. So I sort help. I have learned that it is important to me to continue to find help to deal with any of the pains and discomforts I experience- be it emotional or physical.
Leaving pain and discomfort unchecked
Pain and discomfort are a blessing. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but they are. They tell you to “take action”. That “life can be better” than it has been. They even point you in the right direction. Your intuition will tell you where to go and what to do.
Often this means asking for help. Which is an entirely different topic I will deal with next time (see the blog here). In the meantime, please know that pain and discomfort make us feel like we want to withdraw, deal with it alone and stick our heads in the sand. By all means do this for a short time and see if you can get out of this alone if you want. But if you are stuck in this situation that causes you pain, please know you are not alone. Please know help is a question away. All you have to do is ask.
Pass it on
Please share this blog and let people know they are not alone struggling with the pain of emotional discomfort. It can make up a large part of our lives and can be inspiration for our growth if we allow it. Please give people you know and love that chance if they need it.