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Finding meaning in pain

By Christina Radziejewski, RCC

Christina is the owner of Innova Centre for Counselling & Psycho-therapy. She finds great satisfaction in helping people heal from their emotional pain, find their fullest potential and live a meaningful life.
 

Within the safe walls of the therapist’s office, the exploration of pain and suffering are regular topics for healing and relief. Clients talk about their pain in terms of a physical ache, which may be brought about by depression, which may have been precipitated by the loss of a loved one, loneliness, rejection, or ill health.

Others speak of pain in terms of their inability to feel it, or an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, which may lead to thoughts of death, or to repetitive self-injurious behavior. Others mask their pain, as they may feel shame and embarrassment for what they may have done to deserve their pain.

Whatever the experience of pain may look like, it is something that we all feel to varying degrees.

My perception of pain and suffering

When I reflect on the stories of pain that I have heard and the impact that they have had on my life, I am moved by its depth and invasive nature. The pain of those who have suffered penetrated their beings, in a way that I cannot even begin to fathom unless I suffer a similar loss.

At the same time, I am touched by the resilience and strength of those left behind to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives. One might ask, what choice did they have but to move on with life?

Viktor Frankl said (in his bestselling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”), that “man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning”.

What struck me was those who have processed their pain, have made a decision – whether consciously or not – to honour and celebrate life. This may be a journey that took years in processing, leading them finally to a new consciousness and perspective about life.

A Christian perspective of pain

A Christian religious man once said “there is no tidy, rational explanation of the crushing burden of suffering. We cannot work out easy answers about why it should be. God gave us instead not an answer, but a way to find the answer. It is the Cross that will reveal it.”

He likened our suffering to the suffering of Christ, and that in suffering, we are helping Christ to bear his cross. He gave the example of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to help Christ carry his cross. In helping Him, Simon lightened His burden. In the same way, when we suffer, we are sharing in Christ’s suffering.

Christians believe that when suffering ends and they are no more on earth, they are joined with Christ in the Kingdom of God. Hence suffering and sickness will not and cannot have the last word in human lives because they look forward to something infinitely greater than life: eternal life.

For Christians, suffering has meaning because in suffering, (i) they share in the pain of Christ’s suffering, and (ii) it is a part of the journey that will bring them one step closer to eternal life.

Touched by pain

Just as it was for Simon of Cyrene, it is hard for anyone to bear someone else’s cross. As a therapist, I align myself with my client such that I can understand, appreciate, and to the extent that this is possible, feel their pain. I try to put myself in their shoes, be touched by their pain, and connect with them in their humanity.

As a therapist, I feel compassion for and am touched by my clients, however I cannot carry their burdens or absorb their pain, for this will render me ineffective in my work. When clients are in the midst of a crisis, when rational thought and decisive action are not possible, I am called to step in for my clients. Hence, I cannot and must not let my compassion and empathy overwhelm me such that I am diminished in my effectiveness as a therapist.

Human potential

Pain and suffering are inevitable and inescapable aspects of life. According to Frankl, when we are able to transform personal tragedy into a triumph, we “bear witness to the unique human potential at its best”.

Suffering, tragedy, death, whatever the crisis is called, brings with it a valuable opportunity for learning and spiritual maturity.

A personal crisis is a turning point, a crucial moment

in one’s life when one is asked, what is life asking of you?

What is life asking of you?

As a therapist, I ask myself this question in reaching for my own meaningful life, and to prepare to meet clients in despair, as they are also asked that same question.

I believe this is a journey best travelled together, for the presence of someone who genuinely cares without judgment, blame or criticism, makes suffering infinitely more tolerable.