Usually, we grow and learn the most during times of pain and struggle. Life can deal us a rough hand at times. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, are going through a breakup or divorce, are having financial difficulties, have lost a loved one or you or someone you love is experiencing health problems. These are only a few examples which cause us to experience pain and fear. Unwelcome circumstances are the most difficult because we’re faced with our lack of control, yet they also offer tremendous opportunity. This is relieving for many since it feels daunting and oppressive to think our hardship will leave us in a wake of vanity and meaninglessness.The examples above all deal with loss of some form. Perhaps we are faced with the reality of losing something important to us. Perhaps it’s the loss of a person, position in life, hope or dream. And, loss may involve acknowledging a part of ourselves or another person to which we don’t want to confront.
With this, we’re challenged to integrate a circumstance and reality we don’t want to face or feel. Associated, we are reminded the futility of our efforts in the face of certain situations.It’s natural wanting to avoid or circumvent pain associated with loss. That’s a very common step associated with grief, and any loss is a form of grief. Some people turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, over-working, over-exercising,
over-socializing, TV, internet, over-eating, over-thinking and a host of other distracting engagements. Any activity used to suppress feelings associated with loss and disappointment become a hindrance to growth and only serves to numb us. Yes, it’s natural to initially react with avoidance in response to a loss, but when it becomes a method of coping, it will harm us. When we avoid the pain and reality of our circumstance for too long, we miss the opportunity to grow and learn.
Growth and change is a process and a journey. They require a certain amount of trust and faith… believing we can move through our pain, disappointment and circumstance and be okay on the other side. Enduring loss of any sort requires significant trust and faith because our feelings tell us the exact opposite of that which is true. Our feelings tell us a whole host of negative messages either about our future or ourselves. It’s not until we have waded through the pain and see the outline of the shore on the other side we understand the benefit of what we had to go through. It’s not that we’re happy the difficult circumstance or loss fell upon us… not at all…. but it’s coming to understand how at least the event is helping to shape and grow us.
This difficult journey through the hardships we all endure requires a letting go of what we used to have, what we thought we would get, who we thought we were, or who we thought others were. It sometimes involves letting go of dreams, people, position or power. It seems like a paradox to embrace pain to lose pain. It feels like giving up, losing or quitting. But, only by experiencing the pain of losing something important to us can we then be open to what is freshly available to us. Only by struggling with the difficult emotions associated with loss can we be fully receptive to the joy an uncharted future holds as possibility.
Is there an area in your life resulting in pain which you have avoided? Is there a loss or circumstance in which you haven’t fully accepted? Where could you possibly benefit by letting go?
Sylvia Flanagan, MFT is a San Diego therapist with a private practice in Mission Valley. For more information about San Diego Counseling, feel free to call or email her. Office hours are Monday through Thursday 9:00 to 6:00.