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Thursday, 23 July 2015

How pain defines us

I now realise that my July 22 blog about pain was just a first exercise on this extensive topic. Although I often prefer to forget, pain has significantly shaped who I am today. And I am quite sure that this also applies to anyone reading this. It was my soon to depart ex gf who put me in the right direction by asking me : “what if we did not get any pain?”.

There is no life without pain. In each phase of our life we deal with pain: as a baby, toddler, child, teenager and as an adult. Pain is probably even the first experience of any newborn human. As a new parent we quickly learn to distinguish the crying sounds of our children: hunger, pain and lack of attention. The pain that one endures by the lack of parental attention during childhood, may cause serious emotional issues as an adult. Witnessing a lack of love between our parents may not cause immediate pain but it sure leaves its painful marks during adulthood.

I think it's safe to say that we all prefer to forget the pain that was inflicted on us during childhood, by hiding our memories in the deep, dark corners of our mind. Hiding memories is not the same as denying them. Denial is pretending they never happened. Denial is also dangerous as one needs to create another identity that communicates with the outside world. The original identity is not gone but somewhere hidden inside the new identity. Sometimes we encounter the original identity and get to see a spark of their immense hidden pain.

The pain that we feel as an adult when we get rejected (e.g., in matters of love, sport, study or at work) may easily define our future behaviour. As a child, our parents try hard to protect us against rejection. Nowadays, parents try even that hard that life itself may feel like a rejection once children become (young) adults. Also see my May 20 blog on parenting. It's important for children to discover the “world”, feel (physical) pain when making mistakes, and learning from that. It will create future responsible behaviour. 

Physical pain tends to be visible, treatable and in many cases short lived. Mental pain however is often not visible, hard to treat, and of a long term nature. Overcoming mental pain is much easier when it was inflicted accidentally rather than deliberately.

Sometimes we inflict pain on others as a response to the pain they caused to us. Similar to an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Unfortunately, these countermeasures are usually stronger than the ones we received earlier. This process of escalation is not easily halted. Deliberately hurting another person, for whatever reason, will only cause losers. Some mind games cannot be won. Time may heal the mental bruises but cannot remove its scars (memories). Only love can remove the scars.

The way that we deal with (physical or mental) pain defines who we are and how we deal with others. Hurting the ones that we love by inflicting pain on them, for whatever reason, is wrong. However, we normally only realise this after the fact. And a reconciliation takes time, and courage.

"Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilised by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have - life itself". Walter Anderson