Finding Purpose in Your Pain

5 positive ways to turn pain into growth.

Posted Jan 09, 2021

Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash
Source: Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

There are no shortages of tragedies in life. Yet 2020 proved to be a landmark year for pain and heartbreak.

It’s difficult to imagine any time in recent history when so many hardships confronted us and altered the way we live. Wearing masks in public and educating our children on-line have nearly become routine. But there are 2020 images that will forever remain distressing: spiking COVID death rates, explosive social unrest, disgraceful civil rights violations, and endless political scandals. (See "How to Recover When Life Crushes You")

The Role of Pain

When confronted with something painful, it’s natural to look away, particularly when you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes during times of crisis, you need to deny pain and engage in compartmentalization. Other times it’s essential to confront your pain and own it.

Denial can be adoptive, even helpful, but when you engage in unhealthy levels of it, pain denied can cause long-term health problems such as:

Searching For Meaning In Your Pain

Pain has its place in life. When it is honored and processed in healthy ways, the positive aspects of pain begin to emerge. For example:

Pain can:

  1. Cause you to reflect and make new life choices. 
  2. Deepen your compassion and empathy for others.
  3. Awaken gratitude and appreciation for what you have.
  4. Move you to take action and confront injustice.
  5. Inspire you to seek out healthier habits and relationships.

Pain Can Awaken A Profound Sense Of Meaning And Purpose.

Finding purpose in your pain is an essential part of healing. You may never understand “why” such pain accrued; indeed, the randomness of life can be maddening. But deciding how you chose to will live with your painful experience is essential. (See "How To Create Hope When You Have None.")

When it comes to healing, altruism is one of the most effective tools you can apply. To illustrate, here are some powerful examples from people I work with:

  • A middle-aged man, who is a stage 4 cancer survivor, volunteers weekly at a cancer treatment center. He speaks to patients and their families, shares his own experience, and supports them throughout their treatment. “Speaking to patients and encouraging them is the highlight of my week,’ he says, “Nothing means more to me.”
  • A young woman who battled addiction in high school volunteers to support teenagers in recovery. Instantly, she becomes a role model for the girls in the program and an outspoken advocate for sobriety. “I don’t want other girls to go through the hell I went through,” she says. “I feel so happy when I visit them. Instead of regretting what I went through, I'm using it to make a difference.”

There will always be unavoidable sufferings in life: a relationship’s demise, the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a close friend. Such pains demand attention. How you manage your pain can inspire you to a new way of being -- and encourage others as well.

Need more encouragement? These articles will help: