There’s nothing worse
than meaningless pain
and meaningless suffering.
There is already enough pain and suffering in the world. Why would we want to make more?
The primary reasons people experience meaningless pain and suffering are because of their trauma history, and/or not knowing how to explore and question their thoughts, perceptions and beliefs.
If you want to avoid unnecessary pain, here are the three most common reasons women experience meaningless pain and suffering, and what to do about them.
1. Believing that the choices of a loved one reflect on your worth and value.
Imagine sitting in a circle of women listening to another woman share her pain about a spouse who betrayed her, or how her sister put her down in front of other family members, or how her supervisor belittled or discounted her work.
Now, imagine telling her that because these things happened to her she is less worthy or valuable.
It sounds insane, right?
Yet, this is what most of us do every time someone does something that hurts us. We feel shame, and we explain the other person’s behavior as having something to do with our own worth and value.
When you do this, you are engaged in outside-in thinking; meaning you are observing what is happening externally and making it about you.
In that moment, you are also confused about boundaries and responsibility.
What another person thinks, says, or does is in their circle of control, just as everything you think, say, and do is in your circle of control.
That being the case, the other person is 100% responsible for their words and deeds. No one else is responsible for what another person does.
When you take to heart that everything you do and everything another person does is inside their circle of control, and that each person is 100% responsible for their actions, you will spend less and less time feeling one-down or worth less because of what other people do or don’t do.
2. Spending significant time and energy attempting to get another person to change.
When someone you love is acting in ways that are painful or embarrassing to you, the first line of defense for many of us is to attempt to get the person to change. I’ve been there, done that, and have multiple t-shirts!
Why do we do this?
First, most of us have been brainwashed from a very early age to think from the outside in. This means we are taught (usually by observation rather than direct overt learning) that the way to feel better is to get outside circumstances—including other people—to do what we think would help us feel better.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
The first reason it doesn’t work is that we don’t have the power to make another person change. The second (and more powerful) reason is that we miss the opportunity to go inside to feel the true impact of how the other person’s behavior is impacting us, and discover the power we have to help ourselves feel better.
If you stay with what you think and feel rather than going into fix-it mode in an effort to change other people, here are the questions to ask yourself:
- What would self-love want me to do in this situation? or,
- Would a person who loves herself be doing what I’m doing in this situation? If not, what would she be doing?
If you have ever ended a toxic relationship, you probably realized that you spent a lot of time trying to get the other person to change or improve. You may have even used good boundary work, but to no avail.
What you may find is that you had a deficit of self-love.
This is a painful realization because you will also see how you betrayed yourself by focusing too much on the other person, or giving the other person too many opportunities to improve their behavior despite many broken agreements, promises, and disappointments.
The way to avoid this kind of meaningless suffering is to begin spending more time with your thoughts and feelings about what you’re experiencing and to ask the questions above. Imagine a woman you deeply love experiencing the same thing and ask what kind of advice you would give to her.
3. Believing what you make up about another person.
A woman recently asked me on social media to talk more about jealousy. Here’s what she said:
Please speak about someone who may actually be trying to make their partner feel jealous intentionally.
When you believe that your partner is trying to make you jealous, how do you feel? Do you know for a fact that your partner is trying to make you jealous? Maybe he is, and maybe he isn’t.
This is a classic example of what happens when we believe what we “make up” without knowing if it is actually true.
And in this case, even if it is true that the partner is trying to make her jealous, the most important question she can ask herself is how does it feel when she has these experiences? And what does it mean to her that she has chosen to be with someone who claims to care about her, but tries to hurt her?
Being curious about and questioning what you make up is a rigorous daily practice, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
Questioning your thoughts is a practice of deep self-honesty, and the realizations are sometimes painful. Yet, if you want to know the truth about yourself and others, there is no other way.
Having listened to many women’s stories over the years about what is causing them pain, many of them fall into the category of unquestioned thoughts and beliefs. Believing what you make up is such an ingrained habit that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
The way to avoid believing all of your thoughts as if they are true with a capital “T”, is to regularly question them. Anytime you have a painful or stressful thought you can start by simply asking, “Is this true?” This 3-word question is often powerful enough to shift painful emotions.
If you want to go even deeper into questioning stressful thoughts, I highly recommend Byron Katie’s The Work.
Invitations for reflection, exploration, and action:
- Do you struggle with any of the 3 examples of meaningless pain and suffering? If so, which one(s)?
- Which tool would you be willing to experiment with for ending the meaningless suffering you experience?
© Victoria Tidwell Palmer (2022)
Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body and Soul (©1998)
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick
(Reprinted with permission)
*This post is from the Coming Home to You Series. Visit this page for the backstory of the CHTY Series.