Suffering

Suffering

Picture is made by Gavaskar Selvaraj

Lately many people in my surrounding share their life stories (and suffering) with me. It is an honour to me. As I have noticed that it is not very common to share ones difficulties, vulnerabilities and doubts. One rather showes ones successtories and elevates oneself over another person. Comparing ourselfs with others and trying to look favourable to feed our selfconfidence and ego.

If I would write down now my personal doubts and uncertainties, I would be afraid of rejection and I would be afraid that you would elevate yourself above me. And this makes us all showing our best side.

At the same time this brings us further away from each other as it can create a kind of competition. And that while suffering and vulnerability that comes with it is one thing we all have in common. There is no human being that can escape from suffering, we all experience losses and disappointments in one or another way. It is our shared nature. We should use our suffering and vulnerability as a way to connect to others.

The first time I realized this commonness, the shared nature of loss, doubts, feelings of uncertainty, fears and sorrows was during the last year of university. In a group of psychology students we had to give a presentation about ourselves and our life stories. We never used to speak about these personal issues, but one topic that was relevant for all of us was intimacy and making ourself dependent from someone and thereby vulnerable versus being independent, less vulnerable, but alone.

How do we deal with suffering? I hear people saying, “I’m working on my issue and after that I will be able to…”. But, is it possible that we get rid of our issues? Isn’t it better to accomplish our goals despite of our issues? Sometimes fighting against our emotions can even make them worse.

Imagine, you are intending to do a cycling tour, but the weather forecast tells that there will be several rain showers, alternating with periods of sun. There are several things that you could do: You could either stay at home to avoid the rain. However you would also miss the cycling tour and the sunny parts. Or you could look closely to the sky all the time, cycle quickly to be in time to shelter when the rain comes. You would do the cycling tour, but probably you wouldn’t really enjoy it as you feel rushed all the time to find a place to shelter in case that the rain comes. A last possibility is to just go for it, maybe bring your raincoat and accept that you will get wet during the tour. You wouldn’t need to hurry and after getting wet you would enjoy the sun that dries you again.

I assume that the comparison with our lives is clear. Have dreams and realize them, even if you get wet sometimes as in experience feelings of anxiety, disappointment and loss. You don’t want to miss the sunny parts!

In Uganda I interviewed seropositive people as part of a research project. Part of the interview was a questionnaire to investigate traumatic experiences. I noticed that many Ugandans had gone through a lot of traumatic experiences, starting from fires, to road accidents, domestic violence and rape. Experiences of the loss of a loved one are even more part of daily life than here in the Western world, as a result of accidents and the less developed health care system. At the same time there is music, dance and joy everyday as well. I experienced the Ugandans as very capable to integrate the sunny and the rainy part in their daily lifes.

So what can we do ourselves:

  • Share your doubts and difficulties with a person that you trust.
  • Listen to someone elses story, empatically, without interfering with your own story.
  • Take time every day at the end of the day to think about or write down some positive actions, experiences or outcomes of the day (it can be very small things, like for example seeing a beautiful sunset or bird).

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