Talk to Me  

Suffering has purpose

Are some tragedies impossible to overcome? 

I’ve asked myself this question many times, and parts of me say, no.  All suffering is reconcilable.

Other parts say, yes. There is unfathomable misery in the world; how can one possibly extrapolate any good from it.

It’s an odd concept, thinking that suffering can be meaningful, even purposeful.

The idea that our darkest hour of immeasurable pain can be useful or pull us toward something brighter seems like a quagmire we’d prefer to avoid. 

But we shouldn’t. 

It feels good to feel good.

Happiness, joy, excitement: these feelings all have backstories, and we’re more likely to pursue activities and people that give us these feelings because of our attachments to these stories. 

Imagine the time you hiked to a glacial waterfall mid-summer with a person you were falling in love with. 

This would have been a magical experience that you undoubtedly try to simulate over and over again in different ways because of how amazing it felt. Picnics on the beach, rock climbing, skiing, bike riding. Anything that looks even remotely like that magic is something we want more of, naturally. 

But experiences and relationships aren’t static.  Happiness isn’t a fixed state. Eventually, something happens to fracture that state and we are left to negotiate the outcome.  

Sometimes yoga and a good cry with a friend is all it takes to repair what’s been broken. Other, it’s not as smooth a transition, and all the meditation and walks and downward dogs and workouts in the world don’t make much of a difference. 

Sadness, anger, heartache, grief: these feelings are energies, too, much like happiness, and they have power and intensity not because of what they are innately, but because of the stories we attach to them.

All emotions have a storyline, and it’s this narrative that drives the meaning behind our feelings.

So what do we do with uncomfortable feelings? 

  • Avoid them? 
  • Bury our heads in the sand and pretend they don’t exist?
  • Numb them with drugs and alcohol, food or sex, shopping or social media?  

Yes. That’s often what we do.  Far too often, we choose to get as far away as possible from pain and suffering, even if we’re not really aware that’s what we’re doing.

We make poor decisions to Band-Aid a gaping wound. Does the problem get solved? Does the root issue of that pain go away? No, it doesn’t. 

If anything, the pain gets more intense and more insurmountable and we have to work that much harder to keep the feelings at bay. 

Temporarily things may get better, but unresolved issues and pain have a nasty way of resurfacing.

So what should we do with uncomfortable feelings?  What is a more effective way of coping with discomfort, suffering and pain?  Ready for it?

Lean into it. 

Leaning into our discomfort means coming to a place of acceptance with our discomfort, and giving permission to ourselves to allow those feelings to be, just as they are. 

Leaning into our sadness or anger or grief means allowing those feelings to bubble over, to give them space to simmer down, to feel them melt away. 

Leaning in means to find a way to befriend our pain, so that we can hold hands with it, make peace with it, maybe even eat cake with it. 

It’s less scary then. The stories we make up about how hard it is to feel our pain keep us trapped, keep us from actually experiencing pain presently and without fear. 

When we can start paying attention to our feelings, we are free. 

OK, you say. I’m ready to eat cake with my ghosts. I’m ready for the thaw. Now what? 

If your feelings are overwhelmingly intense and coupled with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you’ll absolutely want to start exploring your pain with a professional. 

Safety is key with exploring unknown or feared territory, and a mental health professional can be a great guide. 

Remember, slow and steady wins the race. The goal is not to rip off the Band-Aid; the goal is to release the pressure valve little by little and build resilience over time. 

If you’re not into seeing a therapist, perhaps you have a trusted friend or family member you can confide in.  Depression, anxiety, trauma: they are all starved by social engagement. 

The more you can reach out, connect, and start talking, even just little bits, the better off you’ll start to feel. 

And if you’re not ready to open up to a friend or family member, perhaps you can join a support group or utilize the crisis lines. 

Finally, if none of these options sound good to you, put your pain in a canvas or a song or a story, or take it to nature. Take that pain and create something with it; the energy has to go somewhere.     

When we’ve given our feelings a platform and can bear witness to them safely and with an open-mind, we become stronger.  

As a result, we learn new things about ourselves and the world around us. 

We may learn to identify patterns of unhealthy decision-making that motivate us to make a career change, or leave a toxic relationship. 

We may learn to be more comfortable with being alone.

We may learn to be more inclusive and less judgmental of others, whereby enriching our connection to the community. 

We may make new choices that lead us in a direction of joy and meaning. 

By accepting and allowing our discomfort and pain to move through us, we align ourselves with the person we want to be, the goals we want to achieve, the life we want to live. 


Comments are pre-moderated to ensure they meet our guidelines. Approval times will vary. Keep it civil, and stay on topic. If you see an inappropriate comment, please use the ‘flag’ feature. Comments are the opinions of the comment writer, not of Castanet. Comments remain open for one day after a story is published and are closed on weekends. Visit Castanet’s Forums to start or join a discussion about this story.

More Talk to Me articles

About the Author

Mother, wife, and therapist, Fiona Patterson balances life at home with a busy clinical practice in Kelowna.

After graduating at the top of her class and earning a master’s degree in counselling psychology, she did post-graduate work in interpersonal neurobiology, a methodology that seeks transformation through re-establishing healthy circuitry in a dysregulated nervous system. 

With a specialty in trauma, and practising from an attachment and somatic-based paradigm, Fiona has honed her craft to become a highly sought after trauma practitioner. 

Over the past 10 years, Fiona has worked for numerous health authorities both on the front lines and as a clinical educator, practised with non-profits, taught post-secondary psychology courses, and volunteered extensively in the mental-health community. 

She believes in the innate power and resilience of the human spirit, and helps her clients learn to tolerate discomfort in order to live a fully-connected, mindful life. 

When she is not practising or writing, Fiona can be found with her family hiking, biking, and travelling, or simply enjoying a home-cooked meal with a glass of Okanagan wine. 

If you’d like to learn more about Fiona’s practice, or book a session, please visit www.counsellingkelowna.com or email [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories