“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
― M. Scott Peck
As a therapist, I am always conscious of trying to help a client alleviate emotional pain. In my profession, we try to aid in the finding of solutions for all kinds of issues while trying to avoid placing our own solutions and autobiography in the way. It is always important that a client recognises that a therapist does not have a “magic wand or pill” that is going to fix them in the short term. Therapy is hard and is sometimes met with fierce resistance, which is generally our human experience. We are brought up on mantras such as ” you need to have ambition”, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, ” from nothing comes nothing” and at times, these are a completely correct way of looking at life. Most of us are always prioritising pleasure over pain. That new car, phone, relationship, job is something many of us constantly strive for and we resist accepting what we already have. However, sometimes resistance can also mean not just prolonging the pain but magnifying it.
Pain can be described as the discomfort that comes into our lives. Some of this cannot be avoided like illness or the loss of a loved one, some can be easily avoided by making the right choices. Resistance refers to our often incredible efforts to ward off the pain we feel. This includes excessive ruminating, tensing the body and active avoiding. Pain plus resistance usually means suffering. Pain cannot usually be avoided but suffering can.
The mental health field is moving towards many models of “mindful acceptance”. This means establishing a new relationship with thoughts and feelings rather than constantly repressing and resisting them as we have been often taught. The thought behind this is to become less enmeshed, less avoidant and more aware and open to what is happening in the present moment in our mind and body. This is acceptance of our feelings and thoughts. It doesn’t mean generally accepting bad behaviour or a bad relationship, for example, it is a conscious choice to accept what we are feeling in any given moment and accepting that we might feel something different in another moment. This gives us an avenue to express honestly our feelings from a point of awareness. Staying in the moment helps us to avoid accepting everything or “sugarcoating” false acceptance in a codependent way or making generalisations. The opposite of acceptance is resistance.
Many of the models include stages of acceptance that we go through when discomfort hits us and work on the premise that acceptance and self-compassion usually work well when the “need” to feel better has brought the realisation that nothing has worked. One which I like is based on the fact that our initial reaction to discomfort is aversion and for some, it stays there and never moves on. The other stages are as follows:
Aversion: Rumination, avoidance, resistant
Curiosity: Turning towards pain with interest
Allowing: Letting feelings come and go
Friendship: Embracing and seeing value.
The idea this model is to move healthily through the stages until we can embrace fully what is happening in our lives and deal with it effectively.
Self-compassion comes when we stop thinking about what is happening to us and start accepting the person it is happening to. It is acceptance of ourselves when pain enters our lives. We often look for a “cure” to make ourselves feel better (more work, striving, etc) when “care” might be a more appropriate option. Self-compassion is “heart” work, acknowledging and accepting the depth of our suffering and our reactions to it. Once we can do this, we can move from “cure” to “care” and find sympathy for ourselves in the same way we might with others when they are struggling. It just means a switch in attention to the present moment.