A Dozen Strategies for Growing Through the Pain

By Kathleen A. Brehony, PH.D.

Discover a Larger Perspective

Growing through suffering requires shifting our outlook from one in which we feel alone to one in which our experiences, even difficult ones, are related to something larger.  Removing your pain from your own dark isolation — taking a longer view — will help you put your suffering in a new context, and you will see your life as part of a larger plan.  Suggestions:

·Explore specific religious or spiritual traditions

·Read about your own, and other, spiritual traditions

·Take classes in philosophy, metaphysics, or other disciplines that explore the “bigger picture”

·Investigate your family genealogy

·Look to nature

·Write down or sketch your thoughts and reflections

Turn Toward Compassion

Seeing the suffering of others puts our own trials in a new perspective, teaching us that we are not alone.  Empathy is a natural element of human nature — we’re prewired to care about each other.  When you act with compassion, you will assume responsibility, respect, and commitment to those suffering.  And when best expressed, your compassion flows toward yourself as well as others.  Suggestions:

·Look at the things you say to yourself when you’re in pain.  Find a voice that expresses compassion to others and yourself

·Fuel your compassion with action: volunteer, help others

·Show yourself compassion: find a photo of yourself as a child and use it as a reminder to treat yourself with tenderness and concern

Recognize and Stop Self-Imposed Suffering

A great deal of life’s suffering is unavoidable, but there are two areas of our lives in which we often create great pain, and which each of us has the power to change: “preventable suffering” and self image.  “Preventable suffering” describes the terrible outcomes that result from decisions, choices, and behaviors that we know will lead to pain, such as adultery, addiction, and illegal activity.  Self-image describes the ways in we think about ourselves and the philosophies and worldviews we hold, which can be negative in times of pain.  Move in the direction of greater self-love.  Suggestions:

·Listen to the wake-up calls about the things you do in your life

·Look honestly at your feelings about yourself

·Surround yourself with company that reinforces your positive feelings about yourself

·Forgive yourself for your mistakes

·Change the way you talk to yourself — improve your inner dialogue

·Don’t set unreasonable, perfectionistic goals for yourself

·Celebrate your strengths and achievements

·Avoid comparing yourself to others

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is truly living, being fully alive in every moment and appreciating each for what it is.  When you enter deeply into each moment as it occurs, you will more clearly see the true nature of reality, and it is this insight that will liberate you from suffering and pain.  Suggestions:

·Practice a daily meditation

·Read books about mindfulness and meditation

·Tap into community support, such as classes or practice groups in yoga

·Find your own path to mindfulness

·Learn to relish and appreciate each and every moment

·Let yourself feel everything


Grief is a natural and normal response to significant loss — let yourself experience it.  Know that there is no prescribed way to feel or a timeline to follow.  Let your grief chart its own course.  Suggestions:

·Recognize and acknowledge that you are grieving

·Let yourself feel the pain — give in to it

·Express your sorrow, talk about it to family and friends

·Forgive yourself for all the things you feel you should have done

·Take care of your physical self

·Find diversions

·Be aware of “anniversary reactions”

·Get help if you need it

·Help others

Build Good Containers

“Container” suggests the importance of relationships in holding us together or enclosing us in a space filled with love and belonging.  Inclusion in a group — a clan, a tribe, a family — is a human necessity; we need the container of love and inclusion that stems from these groups to help us get through our suffering.  Build and nurture your containers.  Suggestions:

·Shore up the connections in your family by frequent contact

·Create a family from friends

·Build your containers before you need them

·Be a good container to the people in your life

Count Your Blessings and Discover the Power of Optimism

The power of the mind, of consciousness, is the only equipment we need to grow through suffering and find happiness.  Through practice, we can learn to train our minds to see deeply into the true nature of things.  Refining such mental states as compassion, kindness, counting one’s blessings, and seeing the larger picture will lead you to a more optimistic view of life in general, and your own in particular.  With optimism as your guide, you will see the future as worthwhile, and know that present problems will pass.  Suggestions:

·At all times, and particularly the difficult ones, look around you at the blessings in your life

·Calm your mind through meditation, yoga, quiet time alone, and nature

·Look at your own levels of optimism and pessimism.  How do you rate yourself?

·Share the blessings you have with others

Find Courageous Role Models and the Hero Within

Particularly during difficult periods, our heroes can serve as our companions, illuminating the paths before us.  Reflecting on their journeys allows us to connect with the heroes within ourselves.  Suffering puts you on the path of the hero — your success along the way will be determined by the choices you make.  Suggestions:

·Sit quietly and reflect on your heroes

·Study to learn more about your heroes

·When you are going through a difficult time, write a story about your difficulty, exploring how your hero might deal with the same crisis or problem

Keep a Sense of Humor

Humor and laughter are powerful strategies for dealing with life’s worst situations, capable of reducing stress, boosting the immune system, and easing suffering.  Even in the midst of terrible loss and pain, humor has its own healing place.  Suggestions:

·Don’t ever be afraid to step back from your suffering and laugh

·Share your laughter with others; let yourself relax and find the humor that surrounds you

Express Your Feelings

The pain of suffering, if left unexpressed, incubates over years, decades, even lifetimes, and festers into a growing inner wound that will not heal.  Talk about your feelings, haul them into the arena of your awareness.  Suffering, especially, demands its expression.  Suggestions:

·Talk about your suffering with a friend or therapist

·Express your suffering through art or ritual

·Listen to others when they need an ear

Silence, Prayer, and Meditation

Silence and the attention to our inner space allow us to create a psychological and spiritual environment in which prayer and meditation naturally arise; taken together, they bring mindfulness, concentration, self-reflection, and a deeply felt connection to God and the universe.  These moments — when you are most completely within — will be your strongest with that which appears to be without and beyond your rational comprehension.  These moments, too, will put your pain and suffering in a new perspective, and you will become stronger for it.  Suggestions:

·Set aside time each day to meditate or pray

·Read, practice, and learn about the many types of meditation and prayer

·Discover the joys of prayer and meditation with others through a local place of worship

· Learn to love silence

·Ask your friends and family to keep you in their prayers

Come to Your Life like a Warrior

Throughout time, all cultures have sought the utopia of an enlightened society in which everyone lives up to his or her fullest potential — it is the way of the warrior.  The warrior exists within all of us as a natural, archetypal element in the human psyche.  During difficult times, four defining characteristics stand out as especially important: Awareness, Bravery, Compassion, and Discipline — the “ABCs” of living as a warrior.  When we’re in pain, it’s easy to forget that there’s a warrior inside us who is up to the task that confronts us.  By looking inside courageously, you will find strength and resources you never imagined.  Suggestions:

·Gently but honestly look at yourself and your life in relation to the four warrior characteristics.  Where are you strong?  Where do you need work?

·Work out a specific plan to keep yourself physically, psychologically, and spiritually strong

·Every morning upon rising ask yourself this one question: “What do I need to do today to take greater responsibility for my life and live with the passionate vitality of a warrior?”

KATHLEEN A. BREHONY, PH.D., is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist, personal coach, and public speaker who has delivered hundreds of keynote addresses and presided over numerous workshops and training sessions. She is the author of Awakening at Midlife, Ordinary Grace and most recently AFTER THE DARKEST HOUR: How Suffering Begins The Journey TO Wisdom By Kathleen A. Brehony, Ph.D. (Published by Henry Holt; September 2000; $23.00US/$34.50CAN; ISBN: 0-8050-6435-4).

After the Darkest Hour illustrates the universality of suffering and its power to connect with others. Drawing on a rich selection of mythologicaland religious stories from many faiths, Brehony provides a historical and cultural context that enriches the meaning of these deeply personal tales and explores the qualities-psychological, behavioral, and spiritual-of those who have turned periods of pain and suffering into opportunities for growth and renewal.

Mastering the art of suffering makes it possible to find courage, meaning, and a renewed appreciation for the remarkable mystery of life. Brehony offers practical advice, strategies, and exercises that will help you approach the difficult situations you face in a more conscious, enlightened way, as well as specific suggestions for creating personal healing rituals. After the Darkest Hour will help you better understand the intricate relationship between destiny and choice, between surrender and control. With Kathleen Brehony showing the way, you can find the blessings and challenges in suffering, and meet even the darkest moments of your life with courage and wisdom. 

Spirit Scripting
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