5 tips for getting through pain and suffering

My last major post focused on the definition of happiness. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we can't be happy all of the time. As a psychotherapist, I often receive the questions, "How do you handle hearing all of these sad stories" "How do you manage to stay happy when you constantly work with people who are unhappy" and "How can you handle seeing all of this tragedy".

In my perspective, I work with the human experience. My work is to help others understand and navigate what it means to be human. All of the stories and feelings I hear, are all part of the experience. We are all human, and therefore all things others experience feel or think, are all things it's possible for anyone to experience, feel or think. At times, we like to believe we are separate, superior, that what someone else did, or thought, or said we could never think, or say or do. This simply is not true, and also dangerous. It creates separateness between us when there shouldn't be. What another experiences, I too can experience. Part of the human journey is pain, suffering, tragedy, and loss. Part of the human journey is joy, excitement, passion, and love. We cannot choose to take only the good parts of this experience and leave the bad. They are equally important. Things are defined by their counterpart, by their contrast. We wouldn't appreciate light if we didn't have dark. We wouldn't appreciate life if we didn't know death was looming. We wouldn't appreciate happy moments, creative moments, moments of inspiration, joy, excitement, elation, contentment, if we didn't also experience sorrow, tragedy, discomfort, pain and suffering.

Part of our work as humans is to enjoy the good moments, and to learn and grow from the bad. Part of our work as humans is to figure out how to navigate through the bad moments and work like hell to get back to the good, back to creativity, to seek out experiences that excite and inspire, to seek out relationships that fulfill and interactions that feed our soul. Part of our work is to realize that the good and the bad must coexist within us and within our lives, as each serves an equally important purpose.  

How do we navigate through the bad moments when we are deflated by suffering, worn down by work, and dulled by pain? Below are a few tips I've found that help me through rough times:

  1. Remember this too shall pass. Remember the only thing constant is change, and you can't have darkness forever. Whatever you're going through will pass as long as you take an active role in creating that change. When I'm going through something difficult, reminding myself this won't be forever helps me to relax a little so I can move through the next steps.
  2. Acknowledge the feeling. Denial only keeps you from moving forward because sometimes the only way out is through. You can't move through something, you won't acknowledge exists. Feel your feelings, and seek support if necessary from friends, family, therapists and/or doctors. 
  3. Seek support. The only thing worse than going through something difficult is going through it alone. Majority of the time, others can't solve our problems. If they were easy to solve we would have already solved them, but what they can do is bear witness to our experience. What others can do is provide empathy, love, understanding, and a presence as we go through our difficult time. I can't emphasize enough the importance of seeking support be it from a friend, family member, therapist, mentor, etc.
  4. Allow yourself to be shaped by the experience. Some argue that our growth comes from our tough times. What I know for sure is that at least in every difficult experience, there's opportunity for growth. Look for the lesson. Welcome the invitation to grow, and become stronger. 
  5. Practice self-compassion. Nurture yourself. Love yourself. See our post on how to love yourself for the specifics, but self-care is crucial when you are going through something. And.. take it easy. You aren't going to be functioning at 100% when you're under stress or adverse experiences.

Social media posts filled with happy moments, can make it easy to forget that we all experience pain and suffering. I hope this post is helpful for your next bad moment.