Some years ago I had a boss who was obsessed with finding out how “comfortable” people were after each counselling session with me. I told him “I am not in the comfort business. I am in the clarity business.” I must admit that I was in a lot of mental/emotional ‘discomfort’ during those arguments with my boss. I was fired less than a year later, bringing even more intense discomfort. I blamed my former boss for everything…for a time.
Emotional distress is first and foremost a signal that something is not working in your life. Confusion and uncertainty accompany it. Something is wrong…but what?
You could quell that discomfort with alcohol or pills or food. Many do. Most of us have at some time or other done just that, and we temporarily felt a little better.
On the other hand, you could externalize the discomfort: “If it weren’t for him… “. “If it weren’t for the economy…” Blame, like alcohol, offers temporary relief at best. I got a lesson in the futility of blame after I lost my job.
I invite you to look back over your life for specific times when you were in serious emotional discomfort. Perhaps it was when someone close had died, a relationship was failing, a job was not working out or you had a life-threatening disease. Recall your confusion and uncertainty.
Now flip the calendar ahead a couple of years. Notice how the discomfort was almost or completely gone and how your life had changed. You were wiser and your life was ‘bigger’ and certainly different.
The important thing to understand is that you wouldn’t be the person you are today without those bumps and the emotional discomfort that went with them. Each bump was a challenge to change and grow. Of course, hindsight is easier than insight in the thick of a life-changing event.
So far I have written about the discomfort that comes when events and crises befall us. We are victims, but when we make it through the discomfort, we are better for it.
By my late 30s I had been through enough trauma to fill a lifetime: abduction and sexual abuse twice, torture, father killed, mother killed, breakup of family, mental illness in family, marriage breakdown, separation from children, alcoholism, brother suiciding, etc.
On the positive side, however, I realized I had not only survived these painful life events, but had eventually emerged mentally healthier, happier and more optimistic about the future.
I began to seek challenges I knew would be uncomfortable, but now with a knowing that I would survive and grow through the experience. Among other things, I left a tenured university faculty position without another job to go to, remarried (after two failures), started and ran businesses and moved across the continent.
So, if you find yourself in the midst of discomfort, I invite you to ask yourself what your present pain is about. What are you afraid to confront? Then do whatever it takes to get clarity.
You will emerge on the other side with a more expanded presence, because clarity and emotional discomfort are incompatible.