Pain.When pain is given permission to occupy the driver’s seat in our decision-making; when pain is given a starring role in governing how we conduct ourselves in a given relationship, we are now making decisions based upon fear-based feelings, not on an objective analysis of all the relevant facts. In doing this, we’ve voluntarily placed a debilitating obstacle in our path toward a better future.
What if, instead of turning people into objects, we operated this way when it comes to actual objects? Would it make sense to never again drive a car because you once owned a lemon, or got into a fender bender? Would it make sense to throw away a knife because, when using it, you accidentally sliced your finger while cutting carrots? Would it make sense to take a hammer to your printer because the wireless connection to your computer goes haywire? Of course, not. That would be irrational.
Common sense usually overrules our emotions when an inanimate object brings pain to our life. In situations like that, we usually restrain ourselves from doing what we feel like doing. However, when a living, breathing person is the source of our pain, that same common sense sometimes fails us. In our fear of experiencing any more of the same kind of pain, we cut off relationship with the wrong-doer. And then we tell ourselves whatever we think we need to tell ourselves in order to feel justified in our decision.
The amount of relationship that we cut off from the other person is usually commensurate to what the voice of justification tells us the other person deserves. If it’s excessive punishment or harsh treatment, so be it. My child (or step-child) asked for it by hurting me. If it’s divorce, so be it. My spouse’s behavior was divorceable. They asked for it by hurting me. If it’s my friend, so be it. They asked for it by hurting me.
Is it healthy to want to avoid pain? Yes! Is it reasonable to avoid a violently barking Rottweiler because you have a healthy fear that you’ll get bitten? Again, yes… especially if you’ve been attacked by a dog before.
But people aren’t dogs. When it comes to the people that we know and love (the people we’re supposed to love), the emotion-based fear of experiencing the same kind of pain we’ve experienced in the past needs to be counterbalanced by the fact-based voice of love.
When we choose not to take a real ball peen hammer to a piece of malfunctioning computer hardware, we are allowing rational thought to provide information that restrains those emotional impulses: “Don’t do it,” says the rational thought, “It won’t fix the problem. It’ll only make matters worse.”
Conversely, when we choose to proceed to take a proverbial ball peen hammer to a relationship, we are not allowing that same rational thought to speak. We aren’t willing to be told not to lead with our emotions; that it won’t fix the problem.
To what sorts of rational thought do I refer? The fact-based voice of love!
Not long ago, a good friend of mine taught me that one of the ways of defining and/or expressing love is “An endless flow of gratitude.”
Try – JUST TRY – being mad, and staying mad, at someone who you’re sincerely grateful for. You can’t. When facts are introduced (or reintroduced) to a situation that is filled with negative emotions, they begin to do what facts do; they begin to put the things that trigger those negative emotions into proper perspective.
Gratitude is fact-based. When asked to list the things you are grateful for about a person you love, you think of facts; real things that person has done for you and/or positive attributes that you appreciate about that person. You’ll start remembering things that make you laugh; special moments you share; reasons you are proud of them; reasons you are glad to know them; and things that tend to counterbalance the facts that are fueling the emotions telling you to take a hammer to the relationship.
When it comes to a person that you’re presently associating with a certain amount of pain, even a lot of pain, think deeply and objectively about all the redeeming qualities about this person and the positive contribution they’ve made to your life – things this person makes you feel grateful for. This will bring some much needed perspective to the situation. That’s what the voice of love does.
One last thing about pain and facts and gratitude:
If you are someone who is withholding relationship from another person because of what they did to hurt you, you may be thinking something along these lines: It was the other person who ___________________________________ [FILL IN THE BLANK] (destroyed the relationship, violated my trust, sinned against me, choose to disrespect me over and over again, etc.). What they did is a fact. It happened. No amount of listing their good qualities removes the facts of what they did.
To that I say as clearly as it can be said: YOU ARE RIGHT.
But this is not about ignoring or removing from “consideration” things that have caused you pain. This is about bringing some valuable perspective to a situation that is likely weighted heavily – possibly unfairly so – in favor of drawing very emotion-based, fear-based decision(s) that you may later regret.
By bringing your thoughts and emotions back to what you’re grateful for, you’re bringing yourself into a state of mind where prayer can make a difference, where counseling can make a difference, and where a balanced look at the whole truth of the situation – the positive as well as the not-so-positive parts of the story – can make a difference.
And isn’t relief from the pain what you really want? Unless you are hell-bent on punishing the other person, isn’t it more important to have relief from the pain and to not see the other person in an unfair, distorted way than to punish them and/or bring more pain to the relationship (or to end the relationship altogether)?
If you really want to stop being dictated to by your pain; if you know there’s something fundamentally wrong with living that way; then you have nothing at all to lose by getting out of the way and making your gratitude list.
On the flipside, if you’re not willing to identify some of the reasons you genuinely appreciate this person, then you are clearly willing to take them for granted and you’ve probably been doing so for some time. You’re somehow able to convince yourself that their misdeeds in the past justify your misdeeds in the present.
For now, do you at least see this pain situation as an obstacle in your life? If so, you’re open to learning more. Being open to learning more is being open to overcoming another big obstacle: ignorance.