What is Pain?


‘Pain is a physical, emotional and/or spiritual state where there is such a significant difference between our expectations and reality that it creates a level of discomfort, discontent, disappointment, dissatisfaction and/or dis-ease.

Now there are two concepts that we are comparing when we define pain that seem to be at loggerheads. These are reality vs expectations. On the one hand you have your reality – things that have actually happened or are happening to you. On the other hand you have your expectations – the things that you wish should happen. When the two are far apart, then you will experience pain.

Let me give you an example. When you get married to somebody and he or she promises to love you till death do you part, they create an expectation of a fairy tale of living happily ever after. But a few years into the marriage when the honeymoon is over, they start to abuse you. That is your reality. It is very different from the expectation of a loving and caring partner. When that happens, then you experience pain because there is a significant difference between your reality and your expectations.

Now as human beings we know when we are in pain. We know when something is not right and we will react to the stimulus. We tend to do one of two things. We either seek reality-based or expectation-based solutions. Now what do I mean by this?

Reality based solutions are those that start from the reality of what is actually happening. You acknowledge the reality of what is happening to you. Acknowledging the reality might mean telling yourself that:

‘I am in an abusive relationship.’

I am addicted to alcohol or drugs.’

That is your reality. Then you ask yourself what am I going to do about it? When you start like that, you are likely to come up with what I call a reality-based solution.

But on the other hand, some people will choose to start from the expectations. This may include denying the reality of what is actually happening and basing their understanding on their wish. They will tell themselves:

Oh, she is not bad person. ‘

‘He will change.’

She did not mean it.’

I do drink or take drugs but it’s not that bad.

When you do that, you are not likely to come up with a solution that addresses the reality. You will come up with what I call an expectation based solution. That is an illusion. So the first step in dealing with pain is to acknowledge its presence and accept that your reality is very different from your expectations. It is not what you signed for, period. No maybes and no buts.

I do a lot of individual and group spiritual coaching. When I hear a person making excuses by starting from their expectations, I ask myself what type of person for example is prepared to love another to their own detriment? What emotional need is being served by this type of behaviour? It is unnatural to kill yourself so that another person can live. Our natural instinct is to preserve the self. Of course things are different in the arena of love. People do all sorts of things in the name of love. They even kill others and commit suicide in the name of love. That is when you just cannot accept the reality to an extent that you want to destroy it.

Terrell Owens said:If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.

Most of us want to do the opposite. We want to force our expectations to be the same as our reality and we are disappointed when that doesn’t work. It will never work. That is why we deny our reality and make excuses for him or her. That is why we want to beat her up so she can be what we want her to be. That is why we drink so that we should not see our reality. Remember you do not have control over somebody else’s behaviour. You can only control your reaction to the stimulus.

The Serenity Prayer says: ‘Lord grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.’

You can change your reality but you cannot another person’s behaviour. Attack your pain from your reality and not from your expectations. Remember that your expectations are just a wish list. That is why when you go the Alcoholics Anonymous the first step is acknowledgement. You introduce yourself and say: ‘Hi, I am Thabi and I am an alcoholic.’ Reality. Period.

I read a poster once that said: “Expectation is using the person next to you as a pillow. Reality is using the pillow next to you as a person.” Big, big difference.

Now I know that some of you will say easier said than done. Of course, nobody said that the road will be easy but the more you drift from these basic principles, the more you will hurt. Also, the more you will avoid those people who remind you of the reality that you are facing. Some of us will even hate them. Others will come up with excuses such as: ‘I have to stay for the sake of the children.’ ‘I have no other financial income.’

I am not encouraging people to leave those relationships. Far from that. If you are staying in the relationship for a reason different from the one that brought you together in the first place, then you are changing the goal posts. You are changing the expectations. You are saying love is no longer of great importance as it has been overtaken by financial security and the happiness of the children. That is fine. That is a choice you are making. You are saying that from now on you will judge the success of the relationship by the financial security it provides or by the amount of happiness it provides to the children and not by any other measure.

That is how some people actually cope with pain – by throwing away the initial expectations and developing others that they think are more suited to their current reality.  And that can be one of the most painful things to do to yourself.

Read my book ‘Is it well with your Soul’ and you will get more information on how to deal with pain in your life. Let the healing begin …

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