No Pain, No Gain? Well…sometimes

We’ve all heard that phrase, often applied to working out or dieting. When it comes to emotions or relationships, though, we often do everything we can to avoid any pain at all, and sometimes, pain can be good.

First, let’s define pain. When it comes to us humans in relationships, I’m going to define pain as any of these: loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, betrayal, mistrust, boredom, dissatisfaction, confusion, frustration…there are many more, but you get the idea.

These feelings and others like them are uncomfortable, to be sure. No one likes to be lonely or bored. We avoid being sad or confused any time we can. In fact, we often avoid or deflect difficult emotions, but that’s not always a good idea. These feelings usually have a purpose, and it’s a good idea to understand what it is.

Pain’s purpose often is to show us that something’s wrong and needs to change. Emotional or relational pain is there to point out areas of growth or development in our lives, places where we need to change in order to be happier or healthier.

If we’re lonely, we can volunteer, join a chorus or a running group, call a friend or sibling, chat up a stranger in the coffee shop line…there are lots of ways to bring people into our lives, both short and long-term. Loneliness is a sign that we need to add or strengthen relationships. If we pay attention, our lives will become richer and more fulfilling; if we ignore it or distract ourselves from feeling lonely, we miss the opportunity to enrich our lives with the energy of others.

If we’re bored, we can pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill. We can use what we already know in new ways, maybe to help others or to earn a little extra income. We can travel, we can dive deeper into something that interests us. Boredom can show us where we’re stuck and can give us the motivation we need to branch out, grow, and do something different.

In short, when we’re in pain of some sort, we have a few choices. We can wallow in it, playing the victim and allowing it to keep us from fully living life. We can ignore it, distract ourselves or numb it out, hoping it will just go away. Or we can embrace it for what it often is: a sign pointing us to places in our lives where we can grow and improve, making ourselves and our relationships stronger and better.