There are two kinds of pain. There is the pain that can cause you to turn inward. It causes trauma and keeps your wounds open. But constructive pain is the kind you learn from. It gives you incredible strength and the ability to better connect with people. This pain mainly has the effect of making you more sensitive to the suffering of others.
Dante said that a person who knows pain knows everything. But does it mean we are forced to suffer if we really want to understand life? It’s not exactly that either.
The first thing to remember is that pain comes from your brain. The brain receives certain signals from your environment, your body and your senses. They interpret it and immediately decide whether to cause a feeling of pain. It’s like pressing a panic button when you feel like someone or something is threatening your physical or emotional well-being.
But here comes the most interesting part. Every pain signal you feel and perceive has a purpose. There’s a reason we call it constructive pain. It’s an alarm signal. So you can’t ignore it. When you put your hand in the fire, your brain will send you a signal of intense pain. But when you take the hand out of the fire, your brain immediately sends out a series of chemicals to relieve the pain.
Actually, almost exactly the same thing happens on the emotional level. When you go through a trauma, your brain interprets it almost like an actual burn. And pain demands a response. To act we pull our hand out of the fire. And the lesson we learn from this – is one we will never forget.
Constructive pain and happiness
Aldous Huxley showed us how living in a state of infinite pleasure can lead to truly dystopian societies. You can find out for yourself in his novel “ Brave New World.” The idea of infinite fun may seem great. But the reality is usually very different. In a sense, we can almost say that human beings need a little pain to contrast with pleasure.
For example, there are few things as pleasant as coming home after a cold winter’s day and drinking hot chocolate. And athletes also feel euphoria after intense physical exertion. Because during that effort, endorphins and other endogenous narcotics come together to ease the pain of physical performance.
So when we say that pain actually increases your sense of pleasure and happiness, it is not a contradiction. There are many studies on this subject. One such study appeared in “Personality and Social Psychology Review.” They explain how suffering, which is a short experience and processed in the right way, makes us feel pleasurable. Plus, it keeps us connected to the world around us. In other words, it is a constructive pain.
For example, think about the times in your life when you were strong. Or those situations when you had no choice but to be brave. It could be an illness, a loss or perhaps the worst disappointment of your life.
Winning the hard part of that inner and sometimes heartbreaking journey has strengthened your psychological muscles. Thanks to your inner strength, you now feel freer and better equipped to create and enjoy your own happiness.
Constructive pain: directing and ending
In the beginning we talked about how emotional suffering is interpreted by our brains as a real burn. However, that is not our own idea or just a metaphor. Because the evidence was actually provided in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .
Neuroscience tells us that when someone says “the pain is in your head,” they are not wrong. It’s the reality. Because there is a very complex structure, the anterior cingulate cortex, that does not distinguish between physical and mental pain. It’s all the same for this part of the brain. And that’s why emotional pain can be so devastating.
But if the suffering is in our heads and controlled by our brains, can we “turn it off?” The first thing most people think of are pills. Well, you have to remember that neither painkillers nor antidepressants are a solution. Because all they do is numb the pain in the cingulate cortex. But they will never solve the underlying emotional problems.
Remember that pain is a cry for attention. It’s like a lighthouse on the coast, warning you that you’re heading for a reef, so you don’t crash into it. If you decide to hide in the hold like a stowaway, you won’t solve the problem. Because the reef is still there.
The only choice is to change direction. Hoist the sails and take the helm of your life. Because then you can look for calmer seas, more favorable currents and more hopeful winds.