Are You Avoiding Your Own Suffering?

Check Out These Four Ways You Might Be Burying Your Head in the Sand

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When I was younger, I did just about anything I could to avoid bearing witness to my own suffering: Hiding my pain under anger and acting out, Numbing my suffering through reckless partying. If you’ve been managing your own suffering with anything other than conscious awareness, lovingkindness, and self-compassion then you’re probably suppressing it, repressing it, acting out, numbing it, or avoiding it. And, you don’t have to take your avoidant behaviors to the extreme for them to be destructive to your personal growth, development, and ultimate happiness.

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking you “need” a glass of wine after work, convincing yourself you “deserve” three servings of takeout after an argument with your partner, telling yourself you “must” go to the gym even though you’ve been feeling sick, or clicking the purchase button on one too many online shopping carts when you’re feeling lonely, these—and countless others—are all methods of avoiding suffering that you need to deal with.

There are four common ways that most people utilize to avoid experiencing their own suffering. (Although it seems like there are many more sometimes, doesn’t it?) The important part is that none of them work long-term, and all of them block you from the growth opportunity that suffering provides.

1. You seek excess pleasure.
Think: Overeating; over-imbibing; compulsive shopping; over-exercising; excess substance use, abuse, and addiction; a dysfunctional sex life—the list is endless. Anything you do outside the realm of moderation and compulsively can fall into this category, even if it’s a behavior that’s healthy in moderation! (Yes, you can even over-meditate.) I’d guess that you know better than to overindulge in anything that isn’t good for you. So, if you’re choosing to, there’s a high likelihood that you’re trying to numb something.

2. You repeatedly recreate yourself.
While there’s nothing wrong with measured growth, personal development, and evolution, if you have the entire self-help section of Barnes & Noble shelved in your bedroom or have been through the entire Crayola spectrum of hair colors in the last six months, you might want to pause and consider what it is you’re really looking for. (Because honey, electric lime hair probably ain’t it.) From dramatic haircuts and fad diets to endless conferences and therapy sessions, if you find yourself compulsively reinventing who you are, ask yourself what suffering you’re trying to alleviate instead.

3. You tell yourself a story that only exacerbates your suffering.
If you’ve ever caught yourself “making a mountain out of a molehill” consciously or not, you’re actively exacerbating your own suffering. Thoughts feed your emotions, which flood your brain and body with stress hormones, generating more thoughts, which evolve into beliefs. Herein is the cycle that, when directed by stress and suffering, viciously dictates the patterns of behavior that are neither serving you nor relieving you of your suffering. Instead of accepting your feelings of discomfort or pain, you’re constructing entire narratives around them that only increase your suffering. A terrific way to key in on this is if you’re using absolutes in your self-talk. For example: You made an error in a PowerPoint you just sent your boss. Instead of recognizing the error and correcting it, you spend the day telling yourself you “always” mess up, your boss “hates you” and you’re “totally going to get fired.”

4. You destroy the possibility of positive experiences by trying to control them from the outset.
Do you find yourself solving for problems in situations where no problem exists? Do you live your life from a worst-case-scenario mindset? If so, you’re trying to mitigate your suffering before it even arises—and life is a system you simply cannot beat. If, rather than letting events and experiences unfold as they will—good or bad—you’re attempt to control every aspect of them, you’re exhausting yourself trying to avoid suffering.

So, how can you avoid suffering? Well, like the adage says: “Pain in life is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

Too often, individuals transform an instance of pain into a lifetime of suffering, by engaging in one of the avoidance behaviors above. It is only by accepting pain as an inevitable—and even acceptable, at times—part of life that you can truly avoid a life weighted down by suffering.

Mindfulness is all about learning to sit with what is and who you are—accepting the essence of you and whatever you’re experiencing. If you practice shutting up and sitting often enough, at some point you will fully awaken to your life and realize you’re actually grateful for everything that’s happened to you, because it’s taught you how to be different, or truer, or more authentically you.

Much of the self-help teaching in our western society says you’ve got to bury yourself to relieve your suffering, but it’s simply not true. The deeply wounded part of yourself deserves to be nurtured and welcomed into your experience—honored, loved, and assured that it’s all okay.

My story is a perfect example of all of this. Plus, it’s what inspired me to begin to teach people how to connect to the most precious part of themselves in the first place.

Did this post make you consider any way you might be avoiding suffering in your own life? If so, I want to know! Head over to Facebook to share any new insights, ideas, or questions you have!

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