A Guide to Transition From Suffering to Hope
If there is anything commonly shared in the human experience, we will experience hardships. Suffering lies in the pathway to a fulfilled life. But I argue that our suffering isn’t something to avoid; instead, suffering is a vehicle designed to create pain’s counterpart, hope.
Life is Pain, That’s Disappointing
“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.” - William Goldman
If there is anything commonly shared in the human experience it is that we will experience hardships. Suffering lies in the pathway of a fulfilled life. Although, in our comfort-first society we live in pain and problems are the enemy. We go through extreme efforts to live productively, and work to minimize our problems in the pursuit of stressless happy lives but end up feeling quite disappointed in the effort of it.
But I argue that our suffering isn’t something to avoid, rather suffering is a vehicle designed to create pain’s counterpart which is hope.
The process of turning suffering to hope is not linear. It is progressive. I like to think of it in terms of where we give our attention at any given moment.
4 Levels of Attention:
Suffering (Pain Management)
Perseverance (Focused Determination)
Character (Building Your World)
Hope (Rehearsing Your Why)
You need pain.
The human psyche needs some level of stress in order to evolve.
In Michael Easter’s book “The Comfort Crisis,” he explains that avoiding stress is probably the wrong approach altogether.
He highlights two mental adaptations that make us impossible to please as humans:
- Hedonic adaptation makes humans adjust and adapt to any situation, so we have to always look out for new things to be satisfied. We grow discontent with the same old, same old.
- Prevalence-induced concept change,” a term coined by David Levari, psychologist at Harvard University. Conducting a series of studies, Levari found that instead of becoming more satisfied as we experience fewer problems, we lower our threshold for what we consider a problem.
In other words, a lack of stress makes us bored and we automatically start looking for things to make problems.
We are not trapped and tricked into negativity, rather we are built for it. We only need to focus our attention so our pain can progress into maturity which is hope.
Laxative > Anesthetic
Anesthesia numbs pain.
Laxatives keep crap moving forward.
You should not read this to learn how to remove your pain. This post will, however, keep you moving. The prize here is learning to gain traction from pain and avoiding stagnation. A part of this includes giving ourselves permission to not need to win, but to find contentment in the journey and overall movement of becoming.
In doing this, we are giving ourselves the ownership of the pain. We get to decide what to do with pain as opposed to forcing us to run away from it.
Manage your pain, don’t run from it.
Our true battle with pain often isn’t the experience of it, but rather the avoidance of pain.
We delay dealing with pain and moving it forward as long as we spend running away from it, you will never be free from it. So, instead of moving away we move towards and take on an executive privilege of how it can be dealt with.
Dr Maya Angelou highlighted this in an interview she gave in a 1973 Conversation with Bill Moyers, she shares that
“And when those things break, there are only three outcomes, something I’ve borne witness to in my life and in my work: 1. You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others 2. You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you and down to your children; or 3. You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way.”
So then, how do we manage our pain?
Level 1: Suffering (Pain Management):
To address pain at this level you have to accept that: pain is relative. The reason this sucks is because chances are you remember a time in your recent or historical past where the pain you are experiencing did not exist. You cannot avoid comparing your current state of pain to a past state where the agitation did not exist.
For example, let’s consider the pain of answering to a difficult boss. It sucks because you can easily, and perhaps often, remember life before that person got hired or when you worked on another team, etc. Showing up to work today hurts because you remember that two years ago that pain was not present.
So if the pain is relative to a lived experience you can address your pain by deciding how you will interpret your current experience.
Let’s use the acronym D.E.A.R. (Deafen, Endure, Act, Reframe) as our first tools for managing pain.
- Deafen- lower the amount of attention the pain demands from you
- Endure- decide to push forward despite the pain
- Act- Make a decision to address and change the source of pain
- Reframe- optimistically consider the different ways that pain benefits you or your environment
Level 2: Perseverance (Focused Determination)
Perseverance is required when the pain messes with your identity and routine. This is when pain nears and dives into a traumatic disabling impact on one’s life.
Examples include dealing with a toxic relationship, loss of life sustaining resources, health challenges, threat of life or wellbeing.
It now becomes paramount that you move towards ownership of your experience. In addition to the D.E.A.R. Tools listed above add two additional methods to work through this level of pain; Rest and Planning.
The essence of perseverance is long distance pacing of oneself. It requires the ability to know how to rest while working. I wrote extensively about rest in a previous newsletter you can find here. But here is the main formula to the practice of learning.
- Review completed and uncompleted items
- Write all new thoughts in your task list
- Say, "I have done all I can, that is enough for now."
When fighting an enemy that seeks to subdue you, you have to know what it means to thrive and persist. To effectively persevere you must know what you are persevering towards.
Here is a guide to planning:
- Imagine a Future You that is full of Peace, Confidence, Authenticity, and Maturity- How are they different?
- If Future You is a 10 and the opposite is a 1, Where are you now?
- What is the very first step to get you to the next number?
Level 3: Character (Building Your World)
To give attention to this level of pain you must accept that massive pain will have an impact. It can significantly change your brain, body and beliefs.
This can happen negatively by priming maladaptive coping strategies or even posttraumatic stress disorder but it can have a massive impact for the positive as well.
Over the last 25 years, researchers have been looking into a phenomenon known as posttraumatic growth (PTG). Developed by Dr. Richard Tedeschi and Dr. Lawrence Calhoun, it explains that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can see a positive growth afterwards.
Tedeschi and Calhoun found that individuals who experienced PTG reported strengthening the following areas:
- Appreciation of life
- Relationships with others
- New possibilities in life
- Personal strength
- Spiritual change
These are fundamental factors in strengthening one’s character. Here is the good news, PTG happens naturally. We are all built to walk through pain and exit it with these upgrades. However, here are some practical ways to ensure you exit your pain with a stronger character.
You need people- isolation is the enemy, be with your tribe and/or therapist
You need experiences- moments are the secret- slow down enough to be captivated by the smallest sensory input, you will get grounded and on your way
You need to own and share your story with people who make you feel safe and accepted
Level 4: Hope (Rehearsing Your Why)
Why does all of this matter?
You have been on a long journey. You rode the waves of pain and learned how to tolerate uncomfortability, embracing the inconveniences of the little things.
You pushed through the pain that threatened to derail our identity and routines by adapting focused determination to put one foot in front of the other. Pacing yourself with rest but also keeping our eyes on your destination.
Experiencing the hurt and being surrounded by support, allowed you to strengthen your relationships, developed a greater appreciation of life and extended your sight of what is possible.
The pain is there and you are responding.
Hope is the realization that your response matters.
This is where you gain a high level view of why you do this every day. The “why” rests in the confidence you are gaining towards ourselves, it lives inside of your children, missions and lifelong devotions. You chose to manage your pain for values that build you up and will one day outlive you.
And this hope will never disappoint us.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame…” - Romans 5:3-4 Bible- New International Version