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Accept Your Pain; It Will Hurt Less

Accepting reality leads to change like denial never can.

You are upset—understandably upset—about a difficult situation or some aspect of yourself. You angrily question how unfair life is or why you don’t change. You fight the current situation, bringing on feelings of distress about your pain. This dilemma is so common that the Buddhists long ago reduced it to a formula: Pain x Resistance = Suffering. Translation: Fighting against (or resisting) the reality of the pain in your life creates suffering.

One common form of resistance is people rejecting their emotions. For instance, a husband might resist feeling angry towards his wife, though the anger is genuinely there. So, he experiences an inner conflict about his anger—on top of continuing to feel angry.

It’s not unusual for people to be critical of their emotions when they think they are wrong for feeling a particular way. However, emotions can’t be wrong—they just are. Saying your emotions are wrong is like saying you were born with the wrong color hair. You might prefer to be a blonde (something you can change—at least temporarily—with a bottle), but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be a brunette. Similarly, the husband feels angry, which is neither right nor wrong.

Another common form of resistance occurs when people are critical of inherent traits. For instance, I have treated a number of anxious introverts who struggle with not liking parties. They think there is something wrong with themselves for this (a judgment that is supported by Western culture). But, there is nothing inherently wrong with being introverted—it even has its benefits, such as sometimes being able to develop more intimate (though fewer) relationships.

Rather than resisting your pain, and so creating your own suffering, you would be wise to learn to accept your authentic self—your experience of who you really are and what you are really struggling with. In doing this, you can develop self-acceptance and self-compassion. For instance, when the introvert accepts her introversion, she can feel good about herself; whether or not she decides to work on developing more social interactions. She can also be compassionate to her own struggles with attending parties.

People who live authentically act in keeping with their inner experiences—such as their likes, dislikes, interests, and values. They are happier in their relationships and achieve a greater sense of inner peace. You can experience this, too, by doing the following:

Begin by accepting your current reality. Your situation is what it is. No amount of wishing for something different or rejecting the situation (or yourself) will change anything. However, by facing your problem, you can at least begin to address it.

Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and desires. Only by knowing your inner experiences can you be true to them. When they are painful, you can then at least find ways to comfort yourself and cope as effectively as possible with them.

Choose to be accepting and compassionate to your experiences. No one ever healed from a blow to the head by hitting themselves there again. The same can be said of emotional pain; that is, self-criticism about some difficulty won’t resolve that problem. In both cases, the way to heal and move beyond the hurt is to accept it and find ways to nurture the wound. More specifically with psychological pain, acceptance and compassion are essential to heal and to free yourself to nurture greater personal growth.

Plan for a better future. If you are unhappy with some aspect of yourself or your circumstance, you would benefit from planning for the change you would like to see—even as you accept and nurture your current self.

Develop supportive friendships. No one gets through this world alone. At some time or another, we all go through rough patches in life and can benefit from the support of good, caring friends.

In short, by accepting the present and having compassion for yourself, you can soothe your pain as you create a happier, more fulfilling future.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, NJ.

Making Change posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.