Monday, August 18, 2008


So I am reading a book that I will mention later, but first, I quote:

"Not everyone comes from a family with spirited and inspiring stories. Some of you grew up surrounded by perpetual sadness, anger, bitterness and negativity even about the "good stuff". Of course that will make it difficult for you to do other than what you've been indoctrinated into; difficult does not mean impossible. First you must have the awareness that embracing suffering is a learned response, a habit."

This got me to thinking. As a social worker I hear a lot about people's suffering. I hear about suffering within my work world, in my family, with friends and of course, I experience my own suffering. And, growing up as I did, I learned to cope with suffering- sometimes blaming others, other times forgiving too easily, and at other times forgetting the whole circumstance.

Questions surface for me. How long do you hold onto suffering? Do others deserve blame? Is forgiveness unwarranted? If someone hurts you- do you tell them? Should they feel your spite- because they deserve it? What if they did not mean to hurt you, but they did? Or, is forgiveness always a good course? When does suffering become a pattern or a habit rather than a truism within the context of your circumstance?
I know there are times when we have reminders of past hurts that rise up when we are with others. Sometimes, we have reactions at the mere hint of past suffering that can totally confuse/hurt friends, acquaintances and loved ones. Sometimes we cause the wounds. How do we chose to let go of the pain?

The fact is that people screw up all the time; they are so darn fallible. And, on top of that, they probably have had shitty experiences that contributed to their approach and reactions. An example of this is my mom. I had great empathy for her. Her life was difficult at best and she spent much of it in an unhappy place. She was bitter and angry- I think she thought she had a raw deal. In this, she did not always express herself in a loving way, often was cold and demanding, and worked to manipulate us to express some kind of control in her life. I say this only to demonstrate a point; not to disrespect my mother. (I think, in time, and through healing, she eventually found her happy place).

Anyway, after much struggle, I found a way to love my mom and I found ways to curb her manipulative behaviors but ultimately, there came a time when I expressed empathy for her and chose forgiveness rather than dish out bitterness and scorn toward her. We had the great fortune to start fresh. The change started with me- not her, the "offender". Altering my reactions, setting limits and offering non conditional love transformed things. I thank God that I took the risk and she was willing to go there with me. She was a strong lady.

I have found that for some things it is important to talk about what happened and express the hurt. For others, it is important to choose relationship over the pain- change the dynamic. Other times, it may be necessary to let go of the relationship entirely. One of the hardest things though is to forgive or love someone who has wronged you when you don't understand or have empathy for what they are going through.
What I do know or believe is that most folks want to be good to others. When something goes tilt it usually means they have been hurt significantly somehow. So that loud mouthed braggart at work, the negative relative that complains about everyone, the bible thumping fundamentalist, or the distant, cold shoulder lover is most likely bearing suffering within.

I am realizing that we have choices. We can stay in the "isn't it horrible that........" place or we can do something about it- regardless what the other person does. And, of course there is always therapy to sort through the whole mess. Then again, we would have to want to break the habit of suffering to make these choices.

The book the quote came from is called: stop whining, START LIVING by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. So far the reading has been palatable- I was not so sure when I first picked up the book.


Mars Girl said...

I think you've got the idea there. One wise therapist said to me that I cannot change other people, but I can change how I react to them. It's helped me deal with my own parental issues and have a better relationship with both my parents.

For awhile, it's okay to wallow in your suffering... until it becomes an excuse for why you arent living the life you feel you deserve. Then, it's time for you to find a way to get around that obsticle.

Some parts of you are always suffering from the things of your past. I know I'm still affected by my past wounds. It's okay to feel them tingle every once in awhile--it's healthy and human. But you can't let them weigh you down. You have to find some way to push on through the pain to understand what they taught you and how they affected your life, but let go of the destructive part they feed into your nature.

It's a battle I've had to wage for awhile in my life now. But I'm much, much better for it.

Frank said...

There is no easy answer, though. I see a lot of people who say they just "let things go" but in reality it is just a way for them to avoid the challenge that the pain is bringing.

It is a narrow road to walk. It is important to feel our pain and to live in the present with it. Wallowing is a whole different story.

Mars Girl said...

Yeah... and the problem with the word "wallowing" is that people can accuse you of it when you're merely living with it. I get paranoid about people thinking I'm wallowing in my husband's death whenever I mention him in conversation... So I try to avoid bringing him up most times.. But it's really hard because in those three years we were together (two years of time before we were married officially), we did A LOT of things. And it's not fair that I have to edit those stories out to make other people feel comfortable or to avoid being accused of wallowing... But I do edit those stories so that people will think that I'm healthy. I'll change a story from, "My husband and I used to do that..." to a vague, "We used to..." (and let them guess who "we" are) or "A friend and I used to..."

It's really a lot of work doing all that editing.

I refuse to say, "My late husband."

Bleh. Makes me sound 100 years old.

Erin said...

Frank, I too believe that it is about feeling the pain and acknowledging it- then the question becomes what to do with it.

I think we all have a past that can be shared with others. It seems unreasonable to alter your delivery unless you are having a pity party or are somehow hurting someone else (like talking about past boyfriends to a current boyfriend without empathy).

I do realize that it is hard to know what to call your late husband- your exhusband or husband or.....? I realized this when referring to my brother in law. That is a tricky one.....