Today I am in pain. This is not the kind of pain where you can simply pop a pill, get a good nights sleep and watch the pain melt away by the next morning. It’s also not the pain that is so bad that they put you in a hospital and give you Dilaudid so that you can hallucinate your way into crazy visions of cobblestone streets and hospital gloves raining fingers. It’s that middle pain where your doctor told you that you should keep popping Advil until your eyes cross and you fall on the ground babbling stuff about the Easter bunny and Santa Claus having a love child and putting them up for adoption. At that point, your doctor says maybe . . . just maybe . . . you should start thinking about going to the hospital so that you can see those raining gloves again. This makes no one happy.
So for those of you who need to be kept up to speed, please visit here. I had a weekend that would only make a person being waterboarded while being hit over the head with a baseball bat jealous. And then again he might not be because he would be unconscious from the baseball bat. It has thrown the entire week into a bit of chaos. Included in this tale of hilarity, or woe, my dentist is on vacation. There is nothing wrong with being on vacation. It’s just that it so happens to coincide with my less than perfect weekend.
As a result, I needed to make decisions about how much pain I was capable of taking. Imagine having to ask yourself how much torture was reasonable torture. Is there even such a thing as reasonable torture? Maybe that should be the name of a movie. Reasonable Torture starring Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp as the mad scientist torturing DiCaprio until he can stand it no longer. Tom Hanks plays the detective hunting down the mad Depp and trying to stop him. Maybe I should write and sell the screenplay. Needless to say, the pain has been exquisite.
Everyone lives with some amount of pain. We all have to live through various aches and pains in our lives. But what is an acceptable level of pain that we can survive and what makes us actually consider taking that hacksaw to our ankles? This got me to thinking about the purpose of pain and why we need it. And how do we handle the pain that is in our lives? Should pain be avoided at all cost? Why? Why not? The following is my list of eight good reasons why we should not eliminate pain in our lives.
8 Reasons/Benefits For Pain
1) Physical pain is a warning signal that something can harm us physically-
I know many of you guys out there are secret pyromaniacs and love burning things. I am hoping that this doesn’t mean that you are also masochistic pyromaniacs. (Although Masochistic Pyromaniacs does sound like a good idea for a band name. If you steal it, at least give me credit.) Whenever the Fourth of July comes around in the States, Guy Fawkes in England, and whatever holiday your country has when it lights fireworks, there is always some guy sitting there laughing to himself as he figures out bigger and better ways to explode things. But as this person gets close to the object of his fascination, fire, the pain receptors in his body warn him that it’s not a good thing to get too close to it. Who doesn’t feel this kind of pain? Lepers. I am not sure you want to go trading places with a leper.
2) Emotional pain warns us against getting into situations that can harm us –
We feel a lot of different things in life. We feel really good when we get our first job. Or we feel really poorly when our significant other leaves us to run away and join the circus. Stupid clowns!!! These feelings tell us something. Sometimes these feelings come up at times that seem highly irrational. We meet this new person in our lives, and we are excited, but then we feel this big moment of dread. Our emotional pain yells at us. It tells us something is wrong. Maybe, it’s warning us that we have been in a relationship with someone like this before and we have been harmed. The pain puts us on alert. We need to listen. Unless we really want to be hurt for the twentieth time in a relationship and our personality is wrapped up in being a victim. Which leads me to number three.
3) Emotional pain is a sign we need to deal with unresolved issues from the past –
Sometimes the pain we experience is telling us we need to stay away from a person. It’s like when you notice that Devon seems to be avoiding his mother like she had the plague. He may seem like a great guy in all other aspects, but our emotional pain should be like a radar, warning us of enemy territory. When it lights up, we need to run. (Sorry Devon.) On the other hand, sometimes this emotional pain goes off because Samanthas hair is black. And Janet’s hair was black. And Janet ran off with your best friend Steve while you were away on a business trip, taking the kids, the car, and $100,000 in cash with her. Yes, you should not get back together with Janet even if she begs. But Samantha is not Janet.
While you realize that the feelings, or emotional pain, may be justified about Devon, you know that you are not giving Samantha a fair shake. Her black hair is not her fault. You are becoming black hairist. And you don’t want to be black hairist. Having Samantha bleach her hair will not fix your problem. This pain you experience may be there to warn you from future Janets. But it’s also telling you that you have something you need to resolve in your life. You need to go get help. Talk to a therapist, or friends and family around you that you trust. And work yourself through all of the issues that you have. Because when you do find the right one in your life, you don’t want to run away simply because they have the wrong hair color.
4) Pain allows us to more fully appreciate the other things in life –
I know this is a bit strange to think about. But if everything in your life was good all the time, how could we truly appreciate anything. If there was no distinction between our experiences, I believe we would grow tired and not fully appreciate them. We become liked the spoiled little rich kids who are very wealthy. They have had money their entire lives, so they do not know how to appreciate the money we have. They have never not had it. So the rich kid ends up throwing away money on a bunch of experiences and things because they want to feel something different. But they don’t appreciate the money it cost or even the experiences they get.
Like that rich kid, if we only had pleasure in our lives from everything, how would we appreciate the pleasures that we did get? We appreciate the pleasures more fully when we know what it is like not to have them. Their absence makes the presence all the more important. Think about people with cancer who know they are about to die. Every moment of life becomes that more precious to them. People and relationships are that much more important. Experiencing beauty and wonder become a driving factor in their lives. Why is this? Because the person suddenly recognizes that life is short, and what it is like to be without it. Likewise, pain reminds us to appreciate the times without it.
5) Pain increases our ability to be sympathetic to others –
I want to begin with saying, this is not a call for the masochists out there to experience pain simply to help others. If we are running out there to experience pain, there is something wholly other that is going on. That kind of pain will not increase our sympathy. But the pain we do experience in our lives can help us to see things from an entirely new perspective and allow us to help others around us. I know that when my brother and I struggled getting along when we were younger we had a hard time relating. But when we both went through situations where we had breakups that were heart-wrenching, we were able to find common ground. This led to being able to have a real relationship with my brother. We connected through our pain.
6) Pain inspires us to take action in a way that pleasure does not –
Think of Pavlov’s study of animals. He could train an animal to take a certain action by giving them pleasure: food. So the animal learned the behavior to get the corresponding pleasure. Even when the pleasure was lessened or eliminated, they still did the action in anticipation of the pleasure. These animals did things to experience more pleasure. The animal was not able to use that pleasure to escape its cage. Likewise, with drug addicts, they do whatever they can to experience the pleasures they get from the drug, even if that pleasure is diminished over time. They are stuck in their situations seeking more pleasure.
Pain is a motivator for change. Without it, we will not change behaviors. So when we are stuck in our own cages or situations, the pain motivates us to change what we are doing and try something new. This can mean getting a new job if the one we have is truly soul crushing. Or it can mean changing our leaders when they do stuff to harm us. Pain is the lightning rod that moves us to action. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not really a fan of being struck by lightning.
7) How we react to pain is an important model for our children-
All too often in the world today, we are interested in pain avoidance. If we have pain, pop a pill. If we see hurting, we run away. We are no longer the people who get tough as the going gets tough. We just get going. When a relationship faces a rough patch, we run. Instead of trying to stick things out, we demand that things conform to the things that we want. I am not saying that this means we should accept abuse. I will get into this shortly. What I am saying is that we have become masters at avoiding pain at all costs.
And our children are always watching us. What are we teaching them to do when we avoid pain? We are modeling for them that we always take the easy way out of situations and that there is nothing to be gained when experiencing it. We infantilize them. Pain is ever present. We cannot escape it while we are living on this planet, except through death. Whatever you believe about heaven or an afterlife, pain is the here and now. When we avoid pain, our children want to do the same things. So as the pain does inevitably come, our kids become incapable of coping.
This does not mean that they do not adapt to the pain. But the adaptations are all negative: drugs; alcoholism; cutting; and so much more. The adaptations they learn end up making them suffer in ways that we could not possibly imagine. None of us want that. Instead, let us teach our kids that pain has purpose, and allow them to flourish. They, in turn, will then become people who truly love and appreciate life.
8) Pain is a bonding mechanism for people –
Once again, I am not saying to run to pain to produce a positive result. I’m just wanting to be able to show that pain is constructive. When you experience pain with fellow sufferers, you bond in ways that are deeper and more significant. Pain removes many of our idiosyncrasies and allows us to more fully connect to people. Talk to anyone who has been in a war. More often than not, they are not fighting for their country while they are in the midst of it. They are fighting for the person next to them. This bond with that person has been heightened through shared pain.
Likewise, marriages are nice when everything is going well. Honeymoons rock! But the depth of the relationship is shallow before pain is experienced. It is in the midst of pain and suffering that the relationship truly grows. You are connected to a whole other person who is very different than you are. These differences arise at some point. And they produce a level of pain and discomfort that many people run from. But handling those differences turn the relationship depth from the one-inch puddle of water to an ocean. Why do older couples appreciate their spouses so much more? It is because they have been through all of the early pain of the relationship and found value in both the other person and what you are building together.
I want to state explicitly that this last paragraph does not condone staying in an abusive relationship. In an abusive relationship, pain goes in one direction. (And not the boy band. Even if many of you have suffered through their songs). No one would claim that the torturer shares the same pain as the tortured. So if you are in an abusive situation, get out.
But if you are struggling with this other person because they do not handle stress the same way you do, or the finances have put you in a position where you feel like you are in a tiny box and the other person isn’t talking, use these painful experiences to grow closer to your significant other. Sit down and have a talk with them about what is important to you. Encourage them to discuss with you what is meaningful to them. The depth of your commitment and love for each other can grow exponentially if you allow it to. Pain can produce beautiful things when we think of it the right way.
Continue The Conversation
I feel like I am barely scratching the surface here. And this is where I would love to hear from all of you. What painful things in your life have shaped and molded you? How do you handle pain? And what kinds of positive things do you experience from the pain in your life?
I just wanted to add a little side note to all of this. For those of you who were wondering, the pain I got with my tooth moved me to have the extraction . . . finally. It’s about time right? Well now I am experiencing the pain of the pulled tooth and it trying to heal. I wasn’t prescribed anything but I had Amoxicillin and Hydrocodone already, so the dentist didn’t give me anything. The pain pills take the edge off, but I refuse to become addicted. So I am trying to balance the pain with the need to be able to work. We shall see how today goes.
Thanks for keeping up with the Guide, and if you loved what you read, or anything resonated with you, please subscribe to be kept updated with my weekly rants, or humorous musings. I look forward to hearing from all of you.
Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life