Q&A: Is Suffering a Choice?
Q: Dear Soul Analyse,
My upbringing was difficult to say the least, I grew up with two parents who were addicted to alcohol and a whole range of drugs, and I suffered a lot of physical and mental abuse at the hands of my father. I also had to watch my mother get beaten almost every day, which I found even more painful than my own abuse because I felt so helpless.
I have tried to create a positive life for myself because I don’t want to repeat family history, and I want my children to have a good upbringing. I went back to school in my 20’s and got myself a good education, something which I struggled with throughout my childhood because there was just too much going on at home for me to focus. I now have a good job, a loving husband and three wonderful children but, even after all this time, I am still feeling the aftereffects of my childhood.
I suffer on a regular basis. It might not look like it from the outside but on the inside I still feel vulnerable and taunted by the memories I have. I have sleepless nights where I can’t stop thinking about what has happened and I feel deep anxiety, almost as though I’m expecting it to happen again. As you can imagine, this leaves me feeling very down and sad.
So here’s my question – is suffering a choice? Am I choosing to suffer as I do, and is there a way I can stop the suffering?
A: Dear Anon,
Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your story with us, which so clearly demonstrates that it doesn’t matter what experiences you had as a child, you can create a positive life for yourself – many others will be inspired by your story.
Painful life situations are sometimes unavoidable but suffering is not. When you were a child you had no control over the suffering you experienced but you do now have a choice whether to let it impact your life, and holding onto old, negative thoughts will keep you stuck.
As you mentioned, although everything seems perfectly fine on the outside, you are still stuck in the past on the inside (inside your mind). When you think about these painful events, your mind and body believe it is happening again, so by thinking about it you are reliving it, and putting yourself through the same trauma again and again. You can read more about this here.
What has happened has been and gone, and the difficulties you are experiencing now are mental events, not actual events, which means you can stop them from happening. When you experience these painful thoughts at night, bring yourself back into the present moment – look around the room and remember where you are right now.
The past has absolutely no place in the present moment, as long as you choose to be present in the here and now. How to Live in the Present Moment, offers more tips on this.
Suffering is a great teacher – and it sounds like you learned a lot from your early experiences. You have broken old habits, improved your life and given your children a better life – so there are always positives we can take from each experience we encounter, no matter how painful it was at the time.
Do let us know if you have any other questions.
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