Why is life so painful? It’s a question that philosophers and religious leaders have been working to answer for thousands of years.
Thankfully, we’ve achieved some answers because of those philosophers and religious leaders, and more recently modern psychology.
However, humanity has also found ways to make some things hurt less than they do. Please note I said “some things.” That’s going to matter soon.
But first, let’s lay some foundation.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist if your life is painful and you want to find some healing and peace. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
Pointless Platitudes And Wishful Thinking
What do people often say when tragedy happens, and life causes pain?
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“God has a plan.”
Hell, you may have said some of these things yourself. But you know which people rarely say stuff like this? People who are rape survivors. People who ended up paralyzed. People who had loved ones kill themselves. People who have been devastated by natural disasters, terrorist attacks, random accidents, acts of violence, mental illness, physical illness, and far, far more.
No. As far as I can tell, these pointless platitudes are often spoken for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the person genuinely wants to say something comforting. They see someone suffering, and because they are a human being with empathy, they want to say something to ease that person’s pain.
Unfortunately, knowing what to say to someone in a tragic situation doesn’t come naturally to the majority. That’s why we have grief counselors and professionals receive training on how to handle these crises.
These people that mean well don’t know what else to say, so they parrot what society deems as “good advice.”
Secondly, the person genuinely believes the platitudes because they’re naive. They are unaware because they have no experience and haven’t witnessed the devastation these terrible events leave in survivors. You can also see this reflected in mental health communities often.
“I’m depressed because my son killed himself 12 years ago. I lost my job, my spouse, my kids won’t talk to me because they blame me, and I’m all alone.”
“Have you tried counseling and medication? They can help!”
“I’ve been in counseling and on medication for the last 12 years. Nothing helps.”
“…well, keep trying! It might!”
It’d be hilarious if there wasn’t a real human being laying awake at night actively mourning the life and love they once had that is gone and will never come back. And they have to find a way to live with that.
Thirdly, you have “inspiration p0rn.” What is inspiration p0rn? Well, it’s when a person who’s been through some terrible situation is trotted out to inspire others. You’ve probably seen this in action or videos of it before. A person goes through a terrible experience, then they show a montage of the person rebuilding their life with motivational music swelling in the background, and then transition to the pictures of their now successful life.
That can be taken one of two ways. Some people genuinely find that inspirational. They look at that story, feel sympathy and compassion, open up their wallets to donate to whatever cause, and generally feel better that there is hope in the world. But, of course, they never bother to show the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or more who aren’t so fortunate.
There are plenty of people who work their asses off and get nowhere because not everything is fixable. And even if it is “fixable,” that doesn’t mean it’s fixable back to 100%. Sure, a person who is paralyzed after getting hit by a car may be able to learn to walk again. However, they may also be living with chronic pain that leaves them addicted to pain medication for the rest of their life.
Everything Happens For A Reason
This one deserves its own special section because of how common this form of wishful thinking is. “Everything happens for a reason” is an appeal to a higher power—whether its fate or God—that there is some plan that causes all of these terrible things to happen to people.
The suggestion is that there is some order or intelligent architect carefully guiding the existence we’re trying to navigate; instead of just being a clusterf*ck of chaos.
It’s comforting to think that God or fate has a plan for you or your suffering. Personally, it’s one I wish I could believe. Still, I have a hard time believing that we would ever register on that radar as individuals in the vastness of all creation. Why would God care about my pain when people are being hacked to death with machetes in civil wars in Africa? Or are parents burying their kids? Or are people being persecuted, tortured, and executed because they’re different and an easy target?
“Well, other people’s pain doesn’t make yours any less important!” Right. Again, it’d be hilarious if there weren’t many deeply suffering people not getting thrown under the bus to give the statement the illusion of truth.
But I can tell you one thing: “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe it wholeheartedly, but not for the reason you might expect. I believe everything happens for a reason because sometimes people are monsters who do evil things, and the universe is indifferent to our suffering. Pain, suffering, and misery all happen for a very good reason: that’s just life. No one is immune to it. Sooner or later, everyone will experience some tragedy or terrible circumstance. And unless they’re a sociopath or incapable of emotion, it will be devastating.
Even the optimal story of happiness that people peddle has a devastating ending. “Oh, you find the love of your life. Your life is happiness and joy together. You have a safe and secure life. You work, raise some kids, and grow old together.” Oh, wait, what happens after the growing old together part? Yeah, one of you dies, and the other has to try to find a way to live after that, if you can.
Everything happens for a reason. So true. And the reason is that none of us are so special that we’re above tragedy. That’s just life.
Well, that’s depressing…
It can be depressing. I know it was depressing for me for a long time. But, after much reflecting, it came to be a comforting thing.
I realized that the universe wasn’t punishing me for the tragedies and traumas I experienced. I realized that it was not due to failure of character or person that many of these things happened, even if I made some bad choices. Bad choices shouldn’t be punished with years-long traumas that must be sorted out.
Then, I could stop blaming myself and redirect my energy into reducing the weight on my shoulders.
The universe doesn’t care about me. It’s not punishing me. It’s not rewarding me. Life is just happening, and that’s how it is. So now, how to deal with that? How to make the pain less punishing and intense?
Well, that’s an answer that’s as different as there are people on the planet. I’m no religious scholar or philosopher, but I can share with you some things that helped me deal with decades of Bipolar Disorder and the loss, tragedy, and turmoil that comes with that.
But before we do that, I would like to strongly state that healing and recovery are very personal experiences. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. It’s not my place to tell you that you’re wrong if you find comfort and healing in a thing, whether it’s a philosophy, religion, belief system, or whatever. So long as you’re not using it to hurt other people, it doesn’t matter.
How To Make Life Hurt Less
Amor Fati translates to “Love your fate.” This phrase is one piece of the philosophy of Stoicism, a philosophy whose great thinkers included slaves and Emperors. This phrase aims to accept the hand that life has dealt you so you can keep living. To love your fate is to welcome anything and everything that comes to you, no matter how wonderful or terrible.
You don’t have to like it. Instead, we love it. We accept it with open arms, embrace it, and don’t waste valuable time on things like:
“Why did this have to happen?”
“I refuse to accept this happened!”
It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is that it did. You can refuse it, but being in denial won’t help you heal. In fact, denial can keep you stuck in the cycle of misery and suffering for the rest of your life if you let it. Unfortunately, plenty of people spend their one life locked into that cycle, depriving themselves of healing whatever they can to hopefully find some joy again.
Realize that healing is not absolute or perfect.
A struggle that I had with my trauma was the idea of healing. How can I heal? I’ll never be the same after the suicide attempts, people I love dying, sometimes by their own hands, and the chaos my undiagnosed mental illness caused.
The truth that often gets left out of the “healing” narrative is that it’s not perfect. You may be able to reduce the pain and make it so small it doesn’t intrude in your life all the time, but it’s still going to be there to some degree.
Maybe you spend the weeks around important dates crying off and on. You could slip into the hole of depression for a little while. Maybe your life and personality are changed by something that happened to you.
Don’t think you’ll ever return to who you were before whatever pain you experienced. You won’t. It’s not a reasonable expectation.
What is far more reasonable is to embrace the idea that you can find some peace or happiness, at least for a little while, with some additional help and work. It will likely never be perfect, though.
Trauma and Grief Therapy
Therapy helps a lot of people. For example, grief therapy can be instrumental in finding peace of mind after losing a loved one or going through some other intense loss. That’s an obvious connection most people can easily make.
What isn’t so easy is trauma therapy. According to the APA, a traumatic experience is defined as:
“…any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. Traumatic events include those caused by human behavior (e.g., rape, war, industrial accidents) as well as by nature (e.g., earthquakes) and often challenge an individual’s view of the world as a just, safe, and predictable place.” Source.
That is a much, much wider net than society often views trauma as. What the average person is thinking of when they talk about trauma is often Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Oh, this war veteran suffered for years afterward because he was in a war.” Right. The traumatic experience was war and whatever he went through, and PTSD is what followed.
The same may or may not be true for sexual assault survivors, people in bad car accidents, surviving suicide attempts, those living with abusive people, a loved one dying, a loved one completing suicide or overdosing, or living with a chronic illness or mental illness. So many things constitute a “traumatic experience” that can leave a lasting impact on a person.
But people don’t necessarily suggest trauma counseling for those experiences. Still, it can be quite helpful.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Seeking help is typically better sooner than later. However, if you’d prefer to wait a bit to see how it’s affecting you, a good rule of thumb is about six months. It will be a good idea to seek professional help if you’re having problems with it six months after the traumatic event. Of course, it’s better to seek help sooner than that, but there you go.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
Life is hard. Life is brutally painful. Trauma will happen, and you won’t avoid it. No one can. However, you can take steps to ease that weight on your shoulders, so hopefully, you can find some reason to smile again.
However, you’re going to have to find the answers for yourself. Anyone else can only offer some perspective and a guiding hand if they are religious leaders, philosophers, or mental health professionals.
Healing is a personal experience. Don’t waste your precious time lamenting the thing that happened. Instead, get out there and start working on it. Therapy is a good place to start, even if it’s not perfect.