The Paradox of “Bearing the Pain” When Hurt by Others

The idea of “bearing the pain” when others are cruel to you was first suggested in the social sciences by the Israeli psychologist, Morton Kaufman. In an essay (The courage to forgive, Israeli Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, 1984) now over three-decades old, the psychiatrist describes his work with a young man who is so angry with his father that he keeps taking that anger and frustration out on others. As Dr. Kaufman encouraged him to “bear the pain,” he was asking his client to no longer allow himself to make others miserable because he is miserable. The client decided to do this and thus became a conduit of good toward others rather than passing on the family pain. He experienced emotional healing.

Bearing the pain. It seems so…….unreasonable. The argument against it goes something like this: I have been hurt, so why are you asking me to bear the pain from that hurt? If I bear that pain, it will be with me for the rest of my life. If I let it all out, then it will be gone. So, do not ask me to bear the pain because it sounds so unhealthy.

The paradox enters when we realize, through research on Forgiveness Therapy (documented in the book by the same name by Enright and Fitzgibbons in 2015), that as a person decides to bear up under the pain, to not pass that pain to others, then a remarkable set of psychological effects occurs.

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First, in bearing the pain and not tossing it to others, the pain actually begins to diminish. Not fighting against the pain all the time quiets the pain until it eventually leaves. Second, in bearing the pain, those so bearing realize that they are strong, stronger than they thought they were. They can stand in the pain and stand up to the pain. This is an insight that can increase self-esteem and the resolve not to be defeated by the pain. Third, as people realize that they are no longer displacing that pain onto others, they realize that they, themselves, have become givers to others. Their sense of self changes and for the better. They now have a new meaning in life: not to let the pain destroy them or to destroy others. It becomes a life that makes life worth living.

In contrast, if people take a long-tried and conventional approach of “getting all of this frustration off of my chest” by yelling and carrying on and confronting and revenge-seeking, then they sometimes find that they are learning how to be angry, and that anger abides, and becomes a part of who they are as persons. Rather than less anger, they are left with even more of it. Anger in the short-run can be good because the angry people are saying that they have worth and should be treated with respect. It is the long-held anger, which literally can last a lifetime, that needs the rehabilitation that we call “bearing the pain.”

To bear the pain is to stand in the knowledge that I am strong and that I do not want my misery to be passed to others. At first, it seems counter-intuitive and wrong. In the long-run, it can become a path to emotional healing and a protection for others against one’s own wrath.

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