Often turmoil and trauma just seem to be destructive and negative. But in the long term, these may be balanced—or even transcended—by powerful positive effects.

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You have probably experienced the negative effects of turmoil in your own life, or at least been aware of them in people close to you. Many people who have suffered traumatic life-events such as death of a loved one, illness (such as cancer), housefires, combat or becoming a refugee, find that dealing with this trauma is a powerful spur for personal development. It was not just a question of learning to cope with or adjust to negative situations; they actually gained some significant benefits from them.

Many folks gain new inner strength and discover skills and abilities they never knew they possessed. They became more confident and appreciative of life, particularly of the “small things” that they normally take for granted. They become more compassionate for the sufferings of others, and more comfortable with intimacy so that they have deeper and more satisfying relationships. One of the most common changes is that they have a more philosophical or spiritual attitude to life.

Initially, most folks experience a “dark night of the soul,” where their previous values are thrown into question, and life ceases to have any meaning. After this, most go through a phase of spiritual searching, trying to make sense of what has happened to them, and find new values. And finally, once they have found new spiritual principles to live by, they enter a phase of “spiritual integration” by applying these new principles. At this point, they find new meaning and purpose in life, together with a grateful heart for being alive, and even for having been through so much turmoil.  In some ways, it seems, suffering can deepen us.

There are only two choices when facing hardships: rise to the challenge and overcome it, or retreat into despair.  Suffering initiates a search for significance. It is important to make sense of and find meaning and purpose in suffering and grow past limits that create vulnerability. We all need one another and nothing is certain or uncertain, both are illusions. Humans cannot predict exactly what is going to occur so letting go of sureness of an outcome brings vulnerability.

The facts are that suffering SUCKS! I always want to get it over with ASAP. But to really cash in on the strength-building benefits, the idea is not to bypass the process.  Patience is key.   A lot of times that means you have to allow yourself to feel the pain: Vent to a friend about your demanding boss, cry after a breakup, push through the last six miles of the marathon on your bucket list..

When we process the pain, we reap the rewards. Most goals and accomplishments could not be completed without periods of suffering. Suffering builds character by giving us a sense that if we can get through times of suffering, we can accomplish anything.

Not all pain can provide the rewards noted above.  Destructive suffering or “bad pain” comes from repeating old patterns and avoiding the pain it would take to change them. Suffering at the hands of someone else is not valuable at all.

Many times people suffer because of their own character faults. Then other people come alongside them and give them comfort or a spiritual pep talk about how God is with them in this testing. They usually frame the experience as the testing of an innocent person.

The difficulty arises when the suffering is the fruit of the individual’s own character and is of no value unless they see it as a wake-up call. This is bad pain. And bad pain is basically wasted pain. It is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through. It is the wasted pain we encounter as we try to avoid grief and the true hurt that needs to be worked through. It is the wasted pain of trying to get a person to love us or approve of us instead of facing the loss of this love and moving on.

In too many support circles, people are supported in ways that do not make them face the growth steps they need to take to keep from repeating their mistakes. They are seen as victims and are then set up for failure all over again.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM! Convert worthless pain into transformative growth.

I hate the cliché, “NO PAIN!  NO GAIN!”  BUT…………………………………!

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