Why is it that we, as people, have a tendency to hold onto pain?
In her TED talk, Brene Brown said this:
“Well you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome, and then one thing… you know? An opportunity for growth. And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth? Well, that’s how my work went as well. Because when you ask someone about love, they tell you about heartbreak; when you ask people about belonging, they tell you the most excruciating examples of being excluded; and when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”
This is something that I too have started to observe, both in myself and in other people. It’s devastating to think about how dramatically a person can change after a tragedy, and curious why the same change doesn’t necessarily occur after success (of course there are exceptions in both examples, but when you look at the amount of people who lose their lottery winnings, I think deviations to this are the exception to the rule). We hold onto the bad so ferociously. It makes me wonder: if that bad thing had never happened, what would we hold onto instead? I think that we would find something. It’s curious that I can cling so obsessively to being moderately (not even severely) bullied in middle school and to think about how much that holds me back; meanwhile, someone else clings just as obsessively to an episode ten fold as serious as mine.
We all have varying degrees of bad in our lives, and they all impact us in significant ways. It’s unfair to discount another person’s tragedy because it’s not as tragic as an experience you lived through, but it’s interesting how no matter how severe our pain, there is a cultural obsession to both focusing and identifying with it. This is who I am. I’m the girl that was bullied. Why not be the girl/boy who has had a lot of success and a lot of joy in their life so far… regardless of the pain.
Why do we hold onto the bad? Why is it so hard to let go? Last year I interviewed physiotherapist Maria Baljak, and she said that one of the biggest challenges that she faced with her patients, was helping them to let go of pain.
“I’ve had clients many times who said “honestly I was looking for it. It felt weird because it wasn’t there.” It’s a real shock to them. Because if you’ve had something for 10 years, and then you have a day when you don’t have pain you’re looking for it because it’s not familiar.”
From my interview with her, I gathered that the reason for this was that we protect our pain so territorially. We identify with it. I know that when I struggled with Depression as a child, whenever someone would say something that conflicted with my views about my “condition,” I would be on them like a bloodhound (I don’t know if this is the correct simile). My belief about my “illness” was so cemented in my identity that a discussion about the disorder became a discussion about me, and I would become extremely defensive.
I think we also use these painful experiences as an excuse for not moving forward.
“I think it’s a fear of pain often times. You know, if they’ve had that experience. If they’ve had pain, for example, that’s limited them pretty significantly in the past, then when they feel pain again (and especially if it’s in the same or similar area) there’s going to be a hesitation, and they’re not going to trust their potential or their body. Their potential for healing gets clouded a little bit. So they just need some reassurance.” – Maria Baljak
What would happen if instead of focusing on the bad we focused on the good. What if we focused on all the things that had gone right in our lives, instead of all the things that went wrong; if instead of focusing on those who have harmed us, we focused on those who love us.
What would happen if, when asked about love, we spoke about love…