The Chains of Victimhood

Glorying in victimhood is a favorite path for people hurt in relationships (especially the divorced). When someone has been wronged (and wronged many times), it is easy to keep seeing life through those pain-filled moments and “define” yourself by what others have done to you. Instead of moving on and creating your own identity, your past pain becomes an excuse for not taking responsibly for today.. and a means to gain sympathy. When you meet new people, you find yourself quickly working your way to an explanation of what happened. You want it front and center so that others to see you in that light. You want that shadow of the past to fall over your face when they look at you. How much better it is to let them get to know the person you have become rather than what you once were! It’s a risky but healthy step toward breaking the chains of victimhood.

Stephen Goforth

Your Pain

Finding a different way to interact with your pain is hard. People have the most difficulty embracing the paradox of acceptance. Our instinct is to run as far away from our pain as possible, to be as safe as we can be. Making a decision to step into it rather than trying to get rid of it can be excruciatingly difficult. Feeling the intensity of those difficult, painful emotions and sensations can feel very dark and very lonely. I see it in all forms of suffering. The depression that never seems to lift, the drink that has to be drunk, the highway we cannot drive on, the hands that must be washed over and over and over. The reality is that most people are willing to embrace acceptance only when they have run out of options – when what they have been doing, often for years, simply doesn’t work anymore. This is a dark place that feels like there is no light to guide you out. It can be devastating. 

To be able to connect and embrace a lifetime’s worth of suffering in service of a valued end, that – in its very essence – is acceptance. 

Joseph Trunzo writing in Aeon 

The pain of math

Difficulties with math, from balancing a checkbook to tallying a tip, can cause some people to feel genuine pain. That’s the finding of a study that examined the brains of people with high levels of math anxiety as they performed algebra problems. While the volunteers waited to receive each question, a region of the brain involved in processing physical pain became especially active.

University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock tells NBCNews.com the same region also appears to register intense emotional anguish, like the feelings surrounding a bad breakup. Among those who fear math, the region lights up when they merely think about the subject, causing them to feel similar distress—a sensation that is bound to reinforce their math anxieties. But surprisingly, the dorso-posterior insula became active only while volunteers waited to receive their next problem—not while they were actually doing it. “It is not that math itself hurts,” Beilock and her colleagues reason. “Rather, merely the anticipation of math is painful.”

The Week Magazine

Becoming Real

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

“Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

My Life with One Arm

Two months to the day after my accident, I went to see a therapist for the first time in my life. I didn’t know where to begin. We discussed loss and resilience and the will to live and adapt. But when I started talking about the outpouring of love and support that I had received since my accident, I began weeping uncontrollably. I realized that for the first time in my life, I was truly letting love into my heart. Losing an arm has connected me to others in a way I have never felt. Yes, I have suffered a tremendous loss, but in a way, I feel as if I have gained much more.

Miles O’Brian, Writing in New York Magazine

"bless you, prison"

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’ I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

what pain does to us

Pain humbles the proud. It softens the stubborn. It melts the hard. Silently and relentlessly, it wins battles deep within the lonely soul. The heart alone knows its own sorrow, and not another person can fully share in it. Pain operates alone; it needs no assistance. It communicates its own message whether to statesman or servant, preacher or prodigal, mother or child. By staying, it refuses to be ignored. By hurting, it reduces its victim to profound depths of anguish. And it is at that anguishing point that the sufferer either submits and learns, developing maturity and character; or resists and becomes embittered, swamped by self-pity, smothered by self-will.

I have tried and cannot find, either in Scripture or history, a strong-willed individual whom God used greatly until He allowed them to be hurt deeply.

Charles Swindoll, Killing Giants, Pulling Thorns

Cancer has ushered in new ways of being alive

(At the age of 35) CANCER has kicked down the walls of my life. I cannot be certain I will walk my son to his elementary school someday or subject his love interests to cheerful scrutiny. I struggle to buy books for academic projects I fear I can’t finish for a perfect job I may be unable to keep. I have surrendered my favorite manifestoes about having it all, managing work-life balance and maximizing my potential. I cannot help but remind my best friend that if my husband remarries everyone will need to simmer down on talking about how special I was in front of her. (And then I go on and on about how this is an impossible task given my many delightful qualities. Let’s list them. …) Cancer requires that I stumble around in the debris of dreams I thought I was entitled to and plans I didn’t realize I had made.

But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.

Kate Bowler writing in the New York Times

The day pain died

The date of the first operation under anesthetic, Oct. 16, 1846, ranks among the most iconic in the history of medicine.

Before 1846, the vast majority of religious and medical opinion held that pain was inseparable from sensation in general, and thus from life itself. Though the idea of pain as necessary may seem primitive and brutal to us today, it lingers in certain corners of healthcare, such as obstetrics and childbirth, where epidurals and caesarean sections still carry the taint of moral opprobrium. In the early 19th century, doctors interested in the pain-relieving properties of ether and nitrous oxide were characterized as cranks and profiteers. The case against them was not merely practical, but moral: They were seen as seeking to exploit their patients' base and cowardly instincts. Furthermore, by whipping up the fear of operations, they were frightening others away from surgery and damaging public health.

The "eureka moment" of anesthesia, like the seemingly sudden arrival of many new technologies, was not so much a moment of discovery as a moment of recognition: a tipping point when society decided that old attitudes needed to be overthrown. It was a social revolution as much as a medical one.

Mike Jay, The Atmosphere of Heaven

Love Hurts… Really!

Heartache can have the same effect as someone spilling hot coffee on us. Imaging scans show the same parts of the brain light up for physical pain as when you are separated from a loved one or have a broken heart, say researchers at the University of Michigan. They asked 40 people who had a recent unwanted romantic breakup that gave them feelings of rejection to look at a photo of their former partner to think about the relationship. The brain scans taken during this, and other, similar situations were compared to scans when subjects were given a slight pain. The similarities in the brain scans suggest a close connection between our minds and our bodies. The painful emotions that come with feeling socially rejected can scar us in more than one way. The sting of heartbreak and rejection can literally makes us physically ill. Our social well-being is a critical part of maintaining a healthy life.

Is there someone you’ve cast aside with a harsh word, or a loved one on whom you have regularly dumped your negative attitude? It’s not that far removed from poisoning or hitting that person because in the end the results can be similar.

Details of the study are in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stephen Goforth

The best moments in our lives

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his won record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person, there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expend ourselves.

Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur. The swimmers muscles might have ached during his most memorable race, his lungs might have felt like exploding, and he might have been dizzy with fatigue – yet these could have the best moments of his life. Getting control of life is never easy, and sometimes it can be definitely painful. But in the long run optimal experiences add up to a sense of mastery – or perhaps better, a sense of participation in determining the content of life –that comes as close to what is usually meant by happiness as anything else we can conceivably imagine.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

Meaning in suffering

Having negative events happen to you decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life, according to a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. "If there is meaning in life at all," Frankl wrote, "then there must be meaning in suffering." 

Emily Esfahani Smith Writing in The Atlantic