Everyone experiences pain in life and, for some, it can be debilitating. But for others, pain becomes something they embrace to help them make positive changes in their lives and careers.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, you can use your pain for great personal and professional growth.
The Purpose of Pain
We are all hard-wired to survive and physical pain is something that we use to warn us about things that are threats to our survival. That’s how we learn that fire is hot and it’s very bad to accidentally breathe in water.
Scientists explain that our minds and bodies have evolved in such a way that our emotional pain can be physically felt. There are particular neurological pathways that connect our brains to our bodies, which sometimes results in that “tight chest” or “dropping stomach” feeling you get when you feel something emotional.
In a nutshell, pain teaches us what to do and what not to do, to ensure we stay alive. In this way, we can see tremendous opportunity to transform our pain into positive growth.
Giving Pain A Purpose
It is important to note that pain should not be ignored, denied, or avoided. Pain teaches us about ourselves and the world around us so it behooves us to sit with these painful emotions because subduing them can lead to mental health issues as well as health problems such as “heart disease, intestinal problems, headaches, insomnia and autoimmune disorders.
So while pain is not necessarily a pleasant experience, it is a necessary part of the human experience and one that we can choose to apply purpose to, should we choose.
Transforming Pain Into Positive Growth
“I never lose. I either win, or I learn.” –Nelson Mandela
Since pain is a natural part of living, there is no real way to avoid it or subdue it, the best thing to do is to learn to grow from it. As with physical pain, sometimes emotional pain can leave scars, but they don’t need to hold us back. Here are some tips for making your pain work for you.
Experts warn that if we don’t accept our emotions, it is not just the negative emotions such as pain or sadness we squelch. We lose our ability to truly feel joy and happiness. To live life to the fullest, it’s critical that we accept all there is to being human and this means all of the things that happen in our lives – regardless of how we perceive them – and how they affect us.
Since we are often bombarded throughout our lives to be tough and suppress our emotions but showing compassion to yourself allows you to embrace the pain you are going through and be gentle with yourself for feeling it. Realize that you are a strong person who can handle the emotions you are feeling and trust that you’ll know what to do with it.
There is no time limit to accepting pain; it is unique to everyone and every situation.
Cry if you need to – scream or pound your fists into a pillow – but allow it to come and accept it for what it is.
As you move through acceptance, ask yourself, “What is this pain teaching me?”
Our inner worlds are our own, and they’re the most important place in existence where we must be truly honest and authentic with ourselves to ensure we are living to our highest potential.
Everything in our lives – our choices, our relationships, our environment – can teach us something about who we are. Nobody is perfect and we all strive to be the best we can be. So pain is a powerful way to identify personal and professional growth opportunities.
If we experience the same kind of pain repeatedly – such as that of abandonment or disappointment in something we did or didn’t do – this is particularly valuable. It helps us to identify patterns we have so we can take steps to change those habits and patterns.
Assessing what your pain is showing you about yourself, helps you to grow as an individual in a truly authentic way.
Emotions can manifest in physical sensations. Think about a time when you felt your heart swell with joy or your stomach drop from fear. Pain, too, can cause physical discomfort that we may not realize is there. If you’ve ever stubbed your toe, you might recall your instinct was to grab it (or hop on one foot frantically) and likely hold your breath to avoid spewing a string of curses.
Breathing is an important part of releasing pain. Once you have accepted it and determined the ways it can serve your growth, it’s time to be mindful in releasing it. By breathing mindfully and being fully present with yourself, you can identify where you are storing that pain in your body and gently release it.
Growing From Trauma
There is actually a term for using pain for growth: Post Traumatic Growth. It is defined as, ” positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”
It doesn’t mean the trauma or pain is ignored; rather the individual takes the experience and turns it into something positive. While they are still researching the phenomenon of PTG, they identify two specific traits they say make someone more likely to experience it: “openness to experience and extraversion.”
Psychiatrists look at specific criteria – the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory – in people who have gone through a traumatic experience to determine what their levels of PTG are. Although it is currently being expanded upon by experts, to date they look at an individuals:
- Appreciation of life.
- Relationships with others.
- New possibilities in life.
- Personal strength.
- Spiritual change.
Not every individual experiences PTG but we all have the capacity to grow from our pain. If we are mindful, attentive, and compassionate with ourselves, we can begin to use our pain to lead a more fulfilling life and experience a more fulfilling career.