“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh
I once had a therapist explain to me why I was drawn to a certain individual. A person with whom my interactions were not healthy, reminding me of the power struggles between my mother and me. She simply said, “You’re drawn because it feels familiar. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar.” It was so profound! It didn’t feel good, but I knew how to play that game, how to navigate that river, and how to survive it.
So it can be with our trauma related feelings. We sometimes cling to them unknowingly, not because they feel good, but because they feel familiar. We know how to feel those feelings; we don’t know what lies ahead.
Are we getting something out of holding on to these feelings, and if so, what? Is there a payoff here we’re not seeing? The answer to that is as individual as all the beings on the planet! The real question to ask is “What am I getting out of holding onto this suffering?”
To answer this for yourself, look at the flip side of some of the symptoms of PTSD. Do I use my suffering to isolate from others? Do I use my suffering to avoid crowds or family events? Do I use my suffering to avoid relationships?
All of these questions have to do with avoidance. I completely get it. And I venture to say that for many people, myself included, avoidance is part of the initial healing. In my struggle, I had to find a balance. I didn’t feel safe going out, but I also had to re-learn that I could be safe at home. There was some avoidance, but also some pushing through to get to the new normal.
However, when this behavior and these beliefs linger for too long, it is time to take a hard look at what you’re getting out of this suffering. I wish I could tell you how long is too long, but it is, again, extremely individualized. My advice is to ask a trusted friend or therapist. They will tell you.
“If you are suffering in your life right now, I guarantee that this condition is tied up with some kind of attachment to how you think things should be.” ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer
The toughest question keeps many trauma survivors stuck: Do I use my suffering to gain sympathy and pity from others?
This one is tricky, because it’s most tempting to the ego. If you have been attacked, abused, raped, in a war, devastated by an accident or an act of nature, you deserve sympathy. You have survived something most people never have to experience. You’ve been through trauma; you are changed. It’s appropriate for people to extend sympathy to you, and for you to receive it. Just be very aware of your response to sympathy. If you notice the compassionate coaxing or outright pity of your friends or family makes you feel loved, you’re on a slippery slope. The ego eats this up, turning your efforts to gaining sympathy, which will keep you from healing. If you find yourself drawn to this form of suffering, actively find ways to serve others. It will take you out of wanting sympathy for yourself, and give your spirit new purpose.
There were many times in my initial years of healing that I used my suffering as an excuse, a reason to isolate, and a point of sympathy. But each time, it held less power and attraction. It began to feel more and more false as I grew in my healing, until it dropped away entirely. Using the trauma to deepen my suffering was more costly than moving on from it, doing the work, and finding happiness.
Besides, the real work is not surviving the trauma, it’s healing the trauma.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
You are Still Beloved
April 3, 2016