"Dwelling on the possible causes of emotional pain is more likely to exacerbate than ameliorate it. This is especially true when the hidden purpose of examining the possible causes is to assign blame."
(Steven Stosny, Ph.D. "The Meaning of Emotional Pain." Psychology Today. July 08, 2011)
As modern humans with many responsibilities, we experience mounting stress and psychological challenges that create tremendous pain. To cope, most of us seek chemical solutions to ease our considerable suffering. Today, we routinely respond to cues generated by pharmaceutical companies claiming we should have zero tolerance for pain of any kind, no matter if the discomfort is physical or emotional.
I would be the first to advise those with mental agony to seek professional treatment. Yet, I believe the culture that now puts so much emphasis on relieving pain would be wise to improve methods other than substances to treat normal stresses and anxieties. Living in a Prescription Nation, millions are becoming overly dependent and addicted to prescription drugs and illegal substances because they seek to escape pain.
Dr. Steven Stosny says to justify blame, we tend to magnify pain. Attributing blame then stimulates anger to punish the perceived offender. He explains ...
"Biologically, the association of pain/vulnerability with anger is almost irresistible; anger has survival-based analgesic and amphetamine effects -- it temporarily numbs pain and provides a surge of energy and confidence to ward-off threat. But each repetition of this process reinforces perceived damage and vulnerability by making defense seem more necessary."
So, over time, this blame-anger response we employ becomes chronic resentment, which Stosny tells us is an automatic defensive system "geared to protect an ego made fragile by the perceived need of protection."
When we become extremely resentful, we no longer perceive painful emotions as motivations to heal and improve, but instead we believe they are punishments inflicted by an unfair world. Then, we try to control what other people think by devaluing or coercing them, thereby reinforcing the vulnerability we seek to avoid. Chronic resentment, itself, is full of pain.
Enter the age-old platitude: "Nobody said the world is fair."
Blame may be a natural defense for the pain we feel, but we know that blaming others for our own unfortunate human condition is common self-destruction that leads to self-inflicted misery. True, pain tells us that something is wrong, and the causes often lie deep inside us. Still, no matter the source of our pain, we, alone, must rise to take responsibility for whatever befalls us in life.
As we inevitably lose comforts and loves, we must strive to find meaning in our adversity. Realizing that pain can create gains and that our troubles can strengthen us, we can add great purpose to our lives and find important meanings if we accept our fate. We can even constructively use our pain to support and help those who may have experienced similar losses.
Granted, we cannot control many of the major influences in our lives, but we have absolute control over what they mean to us. Controlling the meaning of events in our lives by creating as much value as we from adversity can create individual purpose and personal power.
Stosny believes ...
"If we control it by devaluing ourselves or others, we create a chronic sense of powerlessness, characterized by roller-coaster rides of adrenalin-driven resentment that crash into depressed moods.
"Rather than focus on the possible causes of pain and vulnerability, we should try to sort out what each hurtful incident means to us and what we can do to heal and improve. But we should do this important assessment with self-compassion, not self-criticism."
Getting out of one "hole" at a time and figuring out how we can avoid falling into another is greatly beneficial causal analysis, which is easier and more efficient after healing and improving. This self analysis represents a wonderful, fruitful understanding of how to deal with pain and reduce the "blame game" that leads only to feelings of resentment for others, which, in turn, makes our lives more miserable.
Pain and the Lesson of Coping
Managing stress, trouble, and the resulting pain that occurs on a seemingly daily basis is not simple and definitely not easy. However, unless we learn to be constructive with real issues that threaten to weaken us, we will likely seek escape that lands us squarely in the lap of a distorted fantasy. Avoiding pain by taking unnecessary substances or by seeking revenge for our misfortunes will eventually increase the pain we must endure.
I believe that coping with pain is necessary. The lie that a life without distress is preferable to a life that includes significant irritation and discomfort is a Madison Avenue ploy to increase our desires to fall into hedonistic, self-centered lifestyles. That lie is so prevalent that youth now avoid pain at tremendous risk to themselves. We even have "helicopter parents" who do everything imaginable to keep Johnny and Susie in a constant state of artificial happiness without the scars of dealing with unfortunate circumstances.
Instead of preaching delivery from all pain, we should help others learn to endure the sorrows and misfortunes they must face and then help them gain greater strength through employing creative, realistic methods to avoid future adversity. We all could find reason to blame others for significant mental and physical injury -- and, sadly, many do while living and dying in this Prescription Nation of instantaneous relief.
Yes, I believe in pharmaceutical help if it is done with great care and good management. At the same time, I don't believe in escape, in blame, and in believing my right to pleasure is a birthright. I truly believe God tests the meddle of us all in order to strengthen our resolution. He did so with his own Son, the Savior Jesus Christ. Why wouldn't I believe He would do so to all others?
As we age, we suffer increasing pain, and none of us look forward to this reality. We simply must construct methods of dealing with our own discomfort to maintain an honest, blameless existence. Each day we devote to giving back to others instead of dwelling upon the causes of our pain, we receive the double benefit of aiding our fellow man as well as decreasing the impact of our own maladies.