Why do You Choose to Suffer?



Every one of us at some point in our lives have chosen to suffer, as harsh as it sounds, it is a choice that we’re making by allowing negative or toxic thoughts to stay inside of us until we have completely disconnect from our world and sometimes isolated to the extent of making it more chronic. In spite of living in a digital, busy, overflowed “external reality”, that triggers, fires, and induces us to billions of stimuli ..How can we reclaim that freedom to stop letting everything outside to affect us?


To start unraveling this dilemma, let’s begin by recognizing that our primitive brain is wired and was created to protect us from every threat, and it has been conditioned to do that since we have inhabit this earth, therefore it’s “normal” that many times you get predisposed to see the negative, the threat or the downsize of many things.


Nevertheless, it is a trait that also many ancient individuals from different epochs in time have discovered to turn around and break those toxic cycles and they have been able to train their brain to focus on positive outcomes.


So, let’s get into some physiology in order for you to understand better how this “puzzle” works, our brain is biased to the threat or the negative as mentioned, but it turns out that our body and all the homeostasis inside of it is designed to stand just for about two minutes the stress and negative stimuli that you many times decide to feed to it. Hence, if you stay more time in a negative or stressful feeling, it’s your choice and probably is no longer real, and this was depicted in the masterpiece of Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search of Meaning), where he demonstrates and explains how even in the most horrendous conditions, constant humiliation and of course painful physical pain, every human being is able to attach a meaning to his/her existence which will be able to break the cycle of suffering and offer the possibility of having a better future.


When we experience any kind of hardship, loss or any negative situation, if we are able to take sort of a snapshot of that moment, recognize the pain, embrace the meaning of it and then foresee the way out then we can start creating a positive loop that will enhance the inner feelings that we can generate from every negative experience.


Suffering is an attack on the integrity of, or sense of self, dissociation or otherness, a loss of dignity – the drain- ing of events upon ones sense of worth or value (1).


Frankl’s monumental work plants firmly the acquisition of meaning at the heart of success in transforming and transcending suffering: meaning as the pursuit of alternative accounts of experience that make more sense as a personal narrative of what has hitherto been a suffering. Kissane’s group have approached the problem from the perspective of meaning with both empirical and narrative methods with four goals: to acknowledge suffering, offer ways to encourage and foster a search for meaning, strengthen connection with others and ensure optimum physical care (1).


If we analyze more deeply the proposal it is very similar approach to what we suggested above we can construct a new model and approach, that can be summarized into five practical steps:


I.   Acknowledge and embrace the suffering, recognize what is happening;

II. Search for a meaning of the experience, trying to be as separate as you can from the pain;

III. Breath, find a peace mind, practice a positive meditation;

IV. Find support from others around you that you trust will uplift your mood;

V.  Start caring about your basic physical needs,


If we justify this model with some scientific meaning, so you can install each of the steps with more knowledge of what you’re doing, those kind of reflections always help us to increase our confidence levels, therefore we could explain the steps in this way:


Our first step, will allow you to embrace the emotion, and that fact allows the chemical substances liberated to find an outlet in an easier way than if you deny what happen or reject the emotion. Every emotion has a purpose, though some of them are not helpful to maintain for a long period of time.


In the second step, once we recognize, we will be able to assign a meaning for the experience even when it has been painful, and this completely relates to the fact that we take the energy of that negative emotion and transform it into a positive energy that will help us to become stronger, that has a lesson to learn from, that allow you to start detaching from the pain and looking for the light to get out from that painful feeling, this can be accompanied by some practices discussed before (How Can You Break Your Toxic Patterns? & How Do You Let Go...Your Past?) write the experience and the meaning you can see from it, narrate how you feel and what lessons does the experience has, become an observer instead of the person that suffer the situation. You can even try to picture that the experience happened to someone else and then become the friend that gives advice.


The third step, breathing and having quiet moments with your thoughts will be very helpful as you will start noticing which are still the toxic patterns of thoughts, you will just let them flow but after you finish the exercise try to write them down so you can start transforming them into positive outcomes. In addition to that breathing exercises such as the ones included in meditations start moving the “negative” neurotransmitters and cytokines (chemical messengers) out from your body and also they will start transforming by the power of oxygenation into a positive chemical that will allow also more clarity in your brain. This exercise is in fact the one that will allow you to see more light in your new path, you will start to see possibilities out of the dark times.


Let’s get to the fourth step, where you are now ready to look for support from other people, please be very careful and selective in the kind of people you want to surround with, it is highly recommended that you pick the positive, joyful and practical people that you surely know you can count of them and stye will also help you with some helpful advices in addition to be empathic and compassionate with your situation.


Finally the fifth step is getting back on your feet, and of course it implies that you know care of yourself in your physical but still basic needs such as the kind of food you’re consuming, avoid sugary foods or processed food that will only increase the amount of hormones, neurotransmitters and other kind of messenger that will hack your recovery and extend your “suffering”, the time you spend in bed or watching any kind of entertainment that just numbs the pain but that doesn’t have an impactful meaning or that will get you out of that victim mode, look for books, podcasts, audiobooks, tv programs or motivational videos that allow you to move from that victim mindset and start moving you towards the other side, start activating your body which even if it is in the end of the list this action will be a game changer for your energy and will really move, transform, and enhance all your internal homeostasis giving you a much more powerful mindset, energy and forecast of the situation allowing to start feeling so much stronger than before, be very careful with your sleep because this “basic need” is also a very important one inn terms of your internal homeostasis, a good quality of sleep will allow your body and brain to flush out the toxins and negative chemicals mentioned above and start resetting your body for a new endeavor.


As basic as they sound all these advices in terms of your physical health together with your mapping of meaning will really break any negative cycle of suffering that might get into.


If we move to another kind of framework that the one discussed above and we use the ancient teaching of Buddhism we can also acknowledge a lot of practical and proactive steps towards eliminating suffering and owning more the meaning of our experiences.


Buddhism locates the primary source of stress and suffering within individuals – it is the psychological mechanism of craving and aversion and the ignorance about its workings that are responsible for most of our troubles and difficulties in life (2).


The first thing we need to know is that although the Sanskrit word “dukkha” (literally translated as “suffering”) refers to specific sufferings of life originating from external circumstances, such as wars, famines, and diseases, it also conveys more subtle meanings that are foreign to the Western mind. Buddhism traces suffering to an internal causation, namely, the psychological mechanism of craving and aversion. Suffering in the Buddhist sense also comes from the psychological experience of the law of “impermanence,” i.e., the feelings of satisfaction and pleasure disappear quickly (2).


As Keown aptly explains, “The problem.... is that good times do not last; sooner or later they fade away, or one becomes bored with what once seemed novel and full of promise. In this context the word dukkha has a more abstract and pervasive sense: it suggests that even when life is not painful it can be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling. In this and many other contexts ‘unsatisfactoriness’ captures the meaning of dukkha better than “suffering” (2).


We can easily relate these Buddhist teachings to our common daily habits of expectations and craving desires of something in the outside world so we are able to start feeling good, to be at peace, happy or joyful. And as explained above we also know from every experience we have, that once we achieve certain thing, we suddenly and quickly start facing the fact that the satisfaction dissolves very easily.


Moreover, if we instead appreciate all the steps, the struggle, the hardship and the sacrifices that we are doing each day and we start assigning a real purpose to each of this negative labels to the path that we have to follow to accomplish something, then we will be able to also add a present value to the experience, we’ll value more what we have at every moment and then we will be able to completely transform a “painful” experience into a joyful step towards our end result, but we will not have that anxiety to get the thing, to achieve something it will just be transformed to a feeling of more lasting joy.


The Buddha points to the cognitive ignorance of the truth of life as the root cause of all sufferings. That ignorance, or delusion, which is identified as a universal primordial trait of human existence, gives rise to the reactive mechanism of clinging and rejecting, or of craving and aversion. We hold on to whatever is seen as desirable, such as pleasure and success, while rejecting whatever is seen as undesirable, such as pain and failure. Our craving for pleasure, good fortune and good health necessarily causes us to reject their antitheses, i.e., pain, misfortune, and illnesses. But the latter are unavoidable occurrences in our everyday lives, and when they come, they cause suffering precisely because we reject them, or relate to them with fear and aversion (2).


As accurately as we can see it above, this Buddhist teaching of ignorance is so powerful in our Western society, because it just reflects how shallow we have become, as technology and material things have advanced, that modern progress has taken away the concept of effort, as diminish the concept of hardship as devalues pain as something that at first sight or better said at first feeling it should be rejected or denied when in fact, doing that just leads you to a toxic cycle of keeping it, building up resentment and generating now more suffering but that is completely self-produced and more importantly it lacks every meaning, and that is the root cause of why we don’t seem to be able to dissolve it, because we are not even able to recognize that we are experiencing it.


The moment, you start recognizing, embracing it, as pointed above in our practical steps, is when you’re going to be able to canalize the energy into a powerful source of even inspiration to succeed, you’ll find meaning to go on, you’ll feel empathy and compassion for the people that were or are in the same place as you are, and from all those sentiments you can only arrive to your divine nature of love, which is the most powerful force to pull you out from your misery, from your victimhood.


Furthermore, if you stay in this new cycle of transformation, meaning and empowerment then suddenly you¡ll find connection with your true self, with your divine source and from that pool of energy, guess what is going to be born? Your freedom, your peace, your love for yourself and others, clarity to follow a new path, but as unbelievable as it might sound for the skepticals, now you’ll be a stronger, wiser and inspired new version of the past person that was stocked, still and installed in the victim mode.


Insofar as the Buddhist sees suffering as a symptom of man’s primordial ignorance and delusion, it is a moral imperative – and not just a therapeutic need – to end suffering, and this is accomplished by learning – through insight and wisdom – to accept pain and adversities. The more a person can bear pain and adversities with equanimity, the less he or she will experience “suffering” and the greater is his or her mental capacity to achieve inner freedom, serenity, and happiness. In other words, Buddhism teaches that we can become liberated from suffering by learning to be liberated from the ego’s desires, fears, and other mental defilements (2).


According to Buddhism, the reactive pattern of the mind implies one’s refusal to accept both pain and pleasure as inevitable aspects of human existence. This failure to embrace life’s experience in its entirety is at the root of suffering. Thus from the Buddhist perspective, to end suffering ultimately means to be liberated from the bondage of delusion and of its concomitant mechanism of clinging and rejecting. Rather than rejecting pain and holding on to pleasure, we learn to accept both, to eliminate our habitual pat- tern of the reactive mind and attain “equanimity” – a state of even-mindedness in which we see things as they are without reacting with negative emotions (2).


Finally the last Buddhist teaching, for the purpose of being practical, and be able to summarize all this knowledge, remains on the fact that embracing pleasure and pain at the same level or with the same peaceful mind, will allow us to remain strong, to canalize our emotions, to be align with the ability of our body to stand out some minutes with the pain and then moving on to the next thing, without of course being able to mourn and feel all the broad spectrum of emotions but without the need to cling to them and above all arrive to a more objective, wise and practical way to “tolerate” but completely enjoy life with the sour flavors that sometimes we’ll encounter in our journey through this physical earth, also being able to appreciate the downs as we know that those moments shall pass and will leave us a strong and powerful lesson to go up with an optimistic outlook for life !!


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References.

  1. George, R. (2009). Suffering and healing–our core business.

  2. Chen, Y. H. (2006). Coping with suffering: The Buddhist perspective. In Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping (pp. 73-89). Springer, Boston, MA.

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