We spend a tremendous amount of energy (and money) trying to avoid suffering. Entire industries are built around helping people feel better.
Clients come into my office looking to eliminate feelings of anxiety, sadness, and other “negative” emotions that cause tremendous pain and suffering. Often, clients fight (or bury) feelings without taking the time to explore them. Surprisingly, an important step in eliminating negative feelings involves accepting that they have value. Only then can clients understand when the feelings (sadness, guilt, anxiety) become unhealthy.
For example, let’s say a client (we’ll call him Carl) comes in with debilitating feelings of sadness and loneliness every evening. He wants to stop feeling his agonizing sadness.
Before challenging Carl’s sadness, we explore what his sadness reveals about his core values. We find that his sadness shows how much he values deeper relationships. It also reveals his compassion for others and how he values accountability vs blame (when he takes on these burdens). It also points to his nurturing personality and a need to help others. These are all positive core values that go hand in hand with Carl’s sadness.
We also explore any advantages of this sadness. Advantages of his sadness include protection from having to be social or doing things that are uncomfortable. Carl’s suffering also allows him to empathize with others.
Once Carl explores the value in his sadness, he can work on it in a healthy way and change the way he feels. Why? Simply put, deep down Carl doesn’t want to give up his core values or advantages so he will resist efforts to eliminate his sadness.
We all experience this resistance but it’s typically not something of which we’re aware. In TEAM therapy, Dr. David Burns calls this resistance the key to successful therapy. He calls exploration of the value in our suffering a “negotiation with a client’s subconscious.”
We put tremendous effort into avoiding suffering. How would our lives be if we eliminated all suffering? Perhaps a blog for another day!!
Licensed Professional Counselor Intern
Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC