Pain is the great equalizer. No matter where we are born, who our parents are, or who we grow up to be, pain is an emotion we will all experience at some point. Optimists (not that I’m a pessimist) may argue that happiness is actually the universal emotion, but given the unfair playing field some of us are born onto, pain can start at birth, and life can end at any moment. Unfortunately, pain is all some ever know.
For the rest of us, it will come for us at some point, determined to interfere with our happiness. There is nothing to be done about it, other than perhaps to accept our fates because there is no escaping its wrath, the agony it brings, or the after effects it has on our lives.
What we do have control over—to an extent—is how we decide to respond to it. It’s cliche, yes, but it’s also steeped in truth. We cannot control what happens to us, but we have total control over every step we take on our journey to recovery—even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Some people process their disappointments or betrayals, leave them behind, and move on, becoming stronger in the process.
For some, it’s not that easy. They want to move on but just…can’t. No matter how hard they try, life just continues to deliver blow after devastating blow. For them, pain becomes a constant, rather than a passing lull in their mood.
Then there are those that fall in the middle. These are the people who have the option to leave the baggage behind and work their way back to happiness. Instead, they choose to hold onto their pain, cradling it tight against their chest.
I know this place all too well, as I’m guilty of holding onto my past trauma, instead of letting go and moving on. If you’re also guilty of this, keep reading to find out why you do this.
Your pain is familiar, and there is comfort in familiarity. You’ve likely become a bit of an expert at navigating your current trauma. You know the ins and outs of it, how harshly it attacks you, and how hard you have to bite down to get through it. Besides, healing and happiness is this foreign concept that sounds too good to be true, almost like guardian angels and, you know, pixie dust. And when you’re barely hanging on as it is, the thing you grab to anchor yourself probably isn’t going to be something you’ve never actually felt in the flesh. Or at least, something that only exists in your distant memories. You need an instant friend, and self-pity, apathy, and cynicism have always been eagerly waiting for you on the sidelines.
You’ve Been Defined By It, And You Feel Lost Without It
You should not be defined by your experiences—especially ones that impacted you negatively, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t. It’s very easy to slip into victim hood. It’s even easier to stay there. Deep down, you might enjoy the emotional response you get from other people when you relay your harrowing experiences. The slightly tilted faces, ascribed with genuine concern probably make you feel important. Like you finally matter. Almost like the pain was worth it. When that’s the only time you get some kind of empathy from others, you may begin to wonder what value you have without it. So you hold onto it, allowing anger and resentment to fester inside of your heart. Because at least you have something to call your own.
You Don’t Feel Like You Deserve Better
Your prolonged exposure to pain has done a number on your brain. When you’re feeling its most fervent effects, you might try to rationalize why things can never seem to go right. Eventually, you might start to wonder whether or not this happiness thing is even for you. Or, maybe you committed a terrible sin in a former life. Surely only someone who had been an assassin or a serial killer would have been dealt these cards. Maybe this life—this pain—is your penance. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re just one of the ones who will have to endure. After all, the rich cannot exist without the poor. And happiness without sadness is just neutrality. Maybe your suffering is necessary to keep the laws that govern this world intact.
Whatever reason you have for continuing to suffer, know this: you don’t have to stay in this place. Remember that thing about having power over your own life? I know you don’t want to hear it—God knows, I used to resent this fact—but it’s true. You might feel that you’re a slave to your pain, but feelings are not reality, feelings are not fact, and while valid, your feelings are no excuse to rot away in darkness, when you could be blooming in the sunlight.
It won’t be easy; in fact, you’ll probably go through an intense withdrawal period as you try to navigate away from the state of being you’ve known for so long. But you owe it to yourself to try. If you keep it up, one day, hopefully, sooner than later, your pain will be the distant memory, and your happiness will be the thing that you fight, with all of your might, to hold on to.