Emotional pain, like physical pain, can tell you something. Although not pleasant and very uncomfortable to endure, the pain you have suffered in your life can create tremendous value and purpose if you allow it to do so.
Last Friday night Mary Beth and I were driving home from a rare dinner alone. The topic of our parents came up. We both struggle with certain aspects of how we were raised as children. My wife and I are still healing some wounds that were inflicted many years ago.
The purpose of today’s post is not to bash my parents. I strongly believe that my parents, and my wife’s parents, did not consciously or deliberately set out to cause either one of us pain. But our reality suggests that the adults we are today, for better or for worse, is a product of the pain we experienced as children.
During the drive home from the restaurant, I wondered if my life would be different, perhaps a little better, if my parents had provided a more nurturing and structured environment. Mary Beth quickly reminded me that it is because I didn’t have the financial resources or the guidance to guide me into making appropriate choices that has ultimately led me to my success.
Simply put, it is because I had to rely on my own tenacity; I had to develop a strict work ethic; and I had develop personal accountability and a set of goals to motivate and inspire me are the reasons I have what I have today and I am who I am today.
I’m far from perfect, but I do know how to survive and keep moving forward in life in spite of the obstacles, and pain, I encounter.
Pain is a compass
Pain can serve as a compass to point us in new directions and new opportunities. Typically, we tend to avoid a circumstance, a person, or a type of a person, if it has caused us pain in the past.
Making these adjustments contributes to our personal development and growth and helps to develop new-found confidence when the adjustments we make lead to better, less painful, and more gratifying results.
Pain shapes our character
Living in a house with an alcoholic parent forced me to learn to adapt. I had to learn, from an early age, to set my expectations low but to place my ambitions high. My purpose became to survive and to create a life that would break the cycle for my children.
Sometimes in life it’s not what happens to you that define your character, it’s how you respond to what happens to you that define your character.
Our darkest days create our most courageous moments
Just as there are not accidents without value, the pain we feel can pave the way to developing a more courageous and confident spirit. When we get hit, really hard, and fall to our knees in despair, but somehow summon the strength to rise and face the challenge again, we become smarter and we become stronger for the next round.
I’m a big fan of the movie Rocky. In the final scene, Rocky and Apollo Creed come out of their corners and touch gloves for the 15th and final round of the fight.
Creed glares at Rocky and says, “You’re going down.”
Rocky looks backs at Creed and simply states, “No, no way.”
After enduring 14 rounds of punishment and pain, Rocky was determined not to give up. For him, victory meant to be standing when the final bell rang. He knew he would not win the fight with Creed, but he was really fighting a completely different fight – he was fighting the demons in his mind that kept telling him he was just a bum.
He used his pain, both past and present, as a compass to motivate him and provide the confidence he needed to endure the last round. He ended the fight still on his feet.
The purpose of pain is to remind us we are alive. If we will allow it, pain can provide the foundation to live a life of courage and determination. The memories of pain, and knowing we can survive, will help keep us on our feet, too.
This post first appeared on The Bridge Maker.