We all choose our own pain. Whether you’ve stepped on a Lego or you’re projectile vomiting out of the back window of your Uber, it was your choices have led you down this path.
I’m sure you have an idea of how one’s choices could turn them into a puke sprinkler in the wee hours of the night, but how is it a person could choose to step on a Lego? Well, in short, you went dancing in the rain without a raincoat. Horizontally.
You had sex.
You went ahead and made a baby, which then turned into a small version of a human with a large capacity for chaos and a significantly smaller capacity for putting their chaos away when they’re done playing with it. Because they are never done playing.
When you choose to have children you also choose to occasionally step on something pointy, wet, slimy, or sticky; sometimes all in one fell swoop. This is not a direct choice, but instead one that comes attached to a chain of consequences dangling from one keystone choice.
Feeling in the mood? Check. Gettin’ on down? Check. A few weeks late?
One decision of passion has now started a cascade of stinky, pokey, and wonderful consequences that you have selected whether you wanted to or not. Whether you intended to or not.
We start out in life absolutely oblivious to consequence. We will, and do, try everything that is within our reach. It is a truly amazing phenomenon to watch young, small, inept human beings outsmart your plans to child-proof your home simply because of their persistence and naïve curiosity.
As our years of exploration start to amass into something resembling life experience we begin to get a little gun shy: life hurts in an astounding abundance of ways and we all learn this truth no matter what path we take.
Evidence of an individual’s aversion to pain starts almost as soon as we take our first breath, our desire to avoid pain is a large part of our existence and cannot be subverted. An obvious example of this is when you watch a kid try to go down a slide head first but it all goes wrong:
It’s hot out and their shirtless skin sticks to the metal, plus they went in too fast and head-first so now their top half is stuck to the slide while their legs do a cirque-du-soleil around behind them. Their legs end up flopping in front of them in a way only seen in cartoons as they kick themselves in the head and lose three and a half layers of skin from their torso. Eventually they end up at the bottom of the slide in mostly the same shape they started, but this event will have truly captured their full attention.
That’s all it takes, than one implausible but hilarious set of events that render the child just damaged enough to learn a lesson.
Play structure = nope.
Bad experiences stand out much more to us than pleasurable ones, at least as far as the memory is concerned. When it comes to locking in important experiences, nothing gets higher priority than a threat to our survival. If it was traumatizing, even just a little trauma, then it is important enough to be remembered and avoided going forward.
Not everybody is wired this way – there are those of us that have more courage than caution and will run exuberantly back into the flames from which they were burned. Some will run again and again, as many times as it takes to learn not to get burned.
These foolhardy folks carry with them some important traits – those of resilience, persistence, and open-mindedness. It would be easy to write someone such as this off as a thick-skulled brute that just likes the punishment, but the truth is that it takes a certain level of openness to learning to keep lashing yourself against the shoals.
A person with the kind of wiring that will always bring them back for more is a person that is wired for high achievement. The world is a cruel and difficult place and those that have climbed to the top of a ladder, be it in business, art, engineering, or any other ladder, will have been through a lot of pain and failure to earn their place.
Unfortunately for those that are willing to learn the hard way, that isn’t all it takes to climb the pillar of success. We also need the right guidance and most of us will be scolded and shamed out of it – or just plain told that we can’t do it.
Let’s take little Jimmy that went through the slide cartwheel catastrophe that was illustrated earlier in this article. I’m still laughing about it.
Don’t worry, he’s fine. In fact, he’s fake. So stop judging me for laughing at an imaginary child catapulting themselves catastrophically down a play structure.
Anyway, poor Jimmy there had a lot of courage within him because once he regained consciousness the first thing on his mind was to find his missing shoe so that he could go try that again. He knew now that he couldn’t approach the same way since his skin would stick to the slide like duct tape so he needed a new plan. A very new plan. Revolutionary. A lot of his body was in pain.
Once he found his shoe and teeth he approached the slide to get in there again and… whoa! Mom! What are you doing dragging me away from here? Why are we leaving? And why is your face red? I’m the one that ate it down that slide!
You see, Jimmy’s mom was raised by proper parents that do proper things: it’s important that your children are well-behaved and presentable otherwise you’re failing as a parent. Boys that don’t have their shirt tucked in and their hair combed are unacceptable and just not to be. It’s inappropriate to stand out, you see, and one must keep themselves in Bristol-fashion.
She does know that her ways are a little stodgy, and she knows that boys will be boys, so she let loose and allowed him to stretch himself out a little. She brought Jimmy to the playground in an effort to loosen her parenting grip.
But wouldn’t you know it, she turned her head for one minute and Jimmy lost his shirt, shoe, teeth, and was bleeding all over the playground. His dramatic tumble down the slide brought a lot of attention from the other parents and had everyone staring.
It’s too late now – she can’t hide this and she can’t undo it. Her face burning with embarrassment, mortified of what the other parents must think, enough was enough.
So off they go. Now Jimmy is at an important crossroad: his future decisions will be governed by this experience. In order to gain approval from his mother he’ll have to hold himself back, but his heart is calling out for adventure at every turn.
Now each time a situation presents itself as appealingly dangerous he will have to choose to follow his own heart and drive a distance between him and his mother, or squash his deepest impulses and remain close to his primary caregiver – neither is a desirable path.
This is how one person’s unresolved pain gets passed on to the next generation – reflexively and confusingly. How is Jimmy to understand his mother’s embarrassment? All he knows is how to be a kid and that has caused a whole mess of trouble.
“We just don’t do that. Well-behaved boys are good boys.”
That’s pretty cryptic. He wasn’t misbehaving, just miscalculating. And why don’t we do that? What does that mean? Is that some rule of the universe?
And it is a universal rule as far as she’s concerned, but she doesn’t realize that it’s only old lessons that have been pressure-fit into her throughout her early life. The ways that we carry and live out our own pain dictates the path that not only our life takes, but the lives of those under our influence.
The Bright Side of this is that we don’t have to be pain-free to avoid the chain reaction of trauma causing trauma through the generations. We don’t need to extinguish the presence of all of our pain and misery over the years, we just need to know it’s there.
The utility and value of self-awareness can not be overstated. The more you understand yourself the less you will be ruled by these monsters that lurk in the back of our closet. So much of us is buried within our minds and hearts simply because some aspect of our experience was too much for us at one point, and so much of it just needs to be acknowledged and accepted. It’s incredible what freedom can be found just by looking the elephant in the room straight in the eyes and saying “yeah, that’s an elephant in the room.”
I can promise you this: if you think you can avoid passing on the worst of yourself with vigilance then you’re going to end up disappointed and unhealed, and your child will end up lugging around your old baggage… while it causes you continuing trouble as well. When we pass off our neuroses we don’t let them go, we give some contorted copy of them to those we love.
Take the time to sit with yourself and get to know your thoughts. Become acquainted with your feelings. I can promise you that as good as you think you have a handle on the inner workings of yourself there is infinitely more to learn. Go check, I dare you.
The more you know about who you are already, the more you can understand about the pain you choose. This will help you choose your pain more wisely, and feel it much less sharply.
Peace out, folks. Or, rather, Peace in.