Learn to Suffer

This might not be a popular idea, but I think it is one that we all need to learn. 

I was talking to two people this week and the same word came up for both, which seemed appropriate. I told them both: “Part of moving forward and living a healthier life, right now, means you are going to learn to suffer the discomfort of your choices.”

But wait, as a coach and therapist, are you not supposed to help people not suffer?

Well, yes, and no. Let me explain.

When you have an unhealthy habit you want to change — whether that is thinking or behavioral — you will make certain choices, and with those choices come consequences. With each choice we make in life, there will be a loss and a gain. And for every loss, there will be a level of suffering that goes with that.

For example, if somebody gives up alcohol, then they are doing something that will benefit them physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, if their social life and friendships revolve around alcohol, it might mean not going to certain bars or restaurants, or meeting with certain friends. This social withdrawal could be an enormous loss to them. They might even lose friends through this choice.

So, to accept that giving up alcohol is the right thing, they will need to suffer the consequences. And by embracing the suffering, by understanding that the suffering is part of the healthy process of change, they will be in a better position to combat the negative and unhelpful thinking that goes along with this choice. Because like it or not, our brain will conspire against us. When we give up something that our brain enjoys, it will try to manipulate us into giving up our healthy choice and going back to the unhealthy alternative.

You see this a lot with people who struggle with giving up food, drugs, alcohol and bad relationships. Instead of suffering the consequences of sadness, loss and loneliness of a relationship break-up, people often give in to their painful feelings and return to the relationship because they ‘couldn’t stand’ the emotional suffering they experienced. Even though that suffering would pass swiftly enough.

In the Bible, 1 Peter 5:8-10 wrote these wonderful poetic lines: 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

This is the true outcome of learning to suffer. If you understand you will suffer to be well, you too will grow to be strong in your new direction. 

When it comes down to it, making choices isn’t about making a good or bad choice, it is more about which choice you are prepared to suffer for.