The Lessons of Pain

Personal Development
Statue of grieve

While I really like to stay positive with this blog, I can’t deny that there are some “bad” things happening in this world, and chance is you might have come across some of those yourself.

While it is understandable (and healthy) do go into the grief and anger phase initially, staying there for a prolonged period of time won’t do any good – neither to you, nor for the ones you’ve might have lost, etc. Though in the moment of pain, we might not believe that there could be any good ingrained in that moment, we often realize later, that our greatest lessons came from those moments of loss, grief and emotional pain.

But to realize the power and lessons those moments have, there are some things you must do, and some things you must avoid.

The Danger of Why-Questions

Very often when we look at the news with all the drama happening in the world or looking back at our own lives with its small or big catastrophes, we might ask ourselves “Why” this happened; “Why” God (in whatever form your believe in it) allowed this to happen?

“Why”” questions can be very dangerous questions, since they can lead into a self-repeating cycle of pain.

Why can be used in a positive way by looking for possible causes that could be controlled better next time, but “Why” can also be used in a negative, down-spiraling way, which will only increase the pain and will give now way to deal better with the current situation or with upcoming situations of this kind.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s assume a child died during a car accident. This in itself is a tragedy happening and the parents and people who loved that child or were involved in that accident have any right to go into grief and all other associated emotions. However from this situation there will come the time when they ask “Why had this happened?”

Now there are 2 ways to use this “Why” questions.

1. The Positive, Empowering Why-Questions

Here we ask for a cause that could be controlled to make this accident become a valuable lesson. Of course the child could not be rescued and brought back, but maybe the death could be used to learn a lesson and help others not suffer the same.

Here a “Why” question that looks for things to change.

  • Why wasn’t the driver able to stop? This could lead to look for better lightning of the street, looking for better brake technologies; making parents alert to increasing the signal coloring of their children’s clothing, etc.

You see this will bring up definitive answers that will lead to a second question. “How can this be changed, so this won’t ever happen again?”.

2. The negative, disempowering Why-Questions

These are questions, that will not give you answers that will allow you to change either the state you feel, or the way you (or others) can better handle with such a situation in the future.

Examples: – Why does this (always) happen to me? – Why is God doing this to me? – Why do I have to do this (go to work, have to pay, etc.) again? – Why couldn’t I have stopped it?

In short – a Why question only makes sense, if it is followed by a How-Question that will lead you to change the situation for the better. If however your Why-questions are only increasing your pain, self-pity without giving you hope and a new perspective, they won’t do you good. And anyone including you, who suffered aren’t honored very good through this vicious, non-helpful way of repeating and increasing your own pain.

A “Why” question looking for causes that can be influenced and followed by a “How” question asking for lessons to learn from it and things to change is a valuable tool for overcoming grief.

How-Questions – the Way to Change the Situation

If you come to the point that you accept the situation, then all you can is take it and try to learn from it. Here there is one question you can use: HOW?

  • How can I make it better next time?
  • How can I make sure this never happens again?
  • How can I make sure, that others won’t need to go through this?
  • How can I use this to grow stronger?
  • etc.

Emotions – Pain Can Be a Great Chisel to Realize Your Emotional Depth

Very often painful experiences will unleash new levels of emotional depth within us. We might have covered these emotional layers in our day to day life, but going through a painful experience could swipe away those covers and bring us closer to our real self. I often realized (after I’ve gone through the first grief), that emotional pain made me realize again, what being a human is all about.

In this meaning pain can be a chisel that cuts away the layers of suppressed emotions and brings out the real person that was hidden for so long.

I don’t mean you should long for pain to chisel you free. There are definitely other routes to try first. However once you find yourself in such a situation, there comes a time, when reflection will bring you in touch with the real you.

10 comments… add one
  • Hey Patrick,

    There’s a word in psychology for this king of bad why asking you’re talking about. It’s called rumination. Just like a cow, ruminating the food. It’s not a pleasant association, just as it’s not an effective way of thinking or addressing bad things that do happen.

    Eduard

    .-= ´s last blog ..The key to become charismatic and what is CBT =-.

    • Patrick

      Eduard, I like the comparison with cows. And as we now learned that the byproduct of cows is one of the major factors of the climate crisis, the byproduct of our mental rumination is the main factor for our mental crisis as well. Thanks for the new insight.

  • Hi Patrick,
    The disempowering why questions promote a victim mentality in which we feel something was done to us. When we take responsibility for our own reactions and learn from what happened, we are more able to move forward without carrying around the effects of trauma.

    Thanks for a great article about a challenging subject.

    .-= ´s last blog ..Freedom from the Prison of Your Habits #3: Examining Thoughts =-.

    • Patrick

      Gail, Why could lead us into a victim state but taking false responsibility (where there is no responsibility) could also been provoked by a false Why-Question. But I agree that taking responsibility is necessary for yourself finding the way out of pain.

  • Hi Patrick,

    Very thought-provoking article. I’ve been quite guilty of rumination lately, and I can’t even attribute it to a tragedy. I’ve greeted everyday challenges with a series of why questions and you’re right, they do nothing to help the situation. We seem to want to find a reason for each obstacle so that we can categorize it and possibly better understand it. Unfortunately, this provides no other positive value to the situation.

    • Charley

    .-= ´s last blog ..Disclosure Policy – Annoying Housekeeping =-.

    • Patrick

      Charley, the damn thing with rumination is that it can become a habit, so you don’t need any loss or big pain anymore to get it triggered, just everyday situations can be enough to trigger it. So it’s best to fight it at its root.

  • Hi Patrick,
    Your post makes me think of someone I love whose teen-age son died in an auto accident years ago. He must have asked the Why and the How questions over and over, and what helped him in the end was to help others. Last year he established a scholarship in his son’s name.

    Other people can be a huge source of comfort when tragedy strikes.My thoughts are with you.

    • Patrick

      Thanks Madeleine. Yes, helping others and other people can be a great way to transform your pain. Fortunately I hadn’t had a great loss recently (I’ve just had to counsel a friend).

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