Generally speaking, the life purpose of every person who is incarnated is to heal themselves. The healing is necessary due to past traumatic events. However, it isn’t the event itself that causes the trauma, but the psychological reaction to the event that causes trauma.
For example, suppose two people experience a major automobile accident, and suffer similar injuries. However, one person comes away from the experience feeling grateful to be alive. In contrast, the other person becomes a lot more negative and fearful following the accident.
Trained Response to Pain
The differences in responses are likely the result in how people have learned to view pain. For example, many people were punished as children in ways that led to mental or physical pain. As adults, these people will often subconsciously equate physical pain with being bad. As a result, they are now afraid of pain on some level.
In contrast, some children may have learned lessons as children that taught them a more healthy approach to pain. For example, children who played sports may have come to realize that pain is not necessarily bad, and that learning to correctly deal with pain is crucial for success under certain circumstances.
How Pain Avoidance Increases Pain
Negative patterns of behavior occur in people who believe that pain is a negative experience and should be avoided. Unfortunately, this produces a vicious cycle: attempting to avoid pain actually increases the pain, which causes further fear of pain. Let’s see how this works.
Let’s say that a person falls down and hurts their leg. This person is now in physical pain. If they are already afraid of pain, they will now add emotional fear to the experience of this physical pain. If there had been no fear of physical pain, this person could have brushed off the incident as “just an accident”. But instead, this person is now likely to carry the anxiety of and fear of falling down for the rest of their life, whether or not this ever actually occurs in the future.
People who are afraid of pain build psychological defenses to avoid future pain. For example, a person who is afraid of the pain of breakups may choose to avoid future relationships. Note that this psychological defense leads to the pain of being lonely and feeling unloved.
There are also many psychological defenses that occur within the context of relationships. In many cases, the person afraid of pain will defend by “counter attacking” the person they feel is hurting them (whether or not this is intentional, and whether or not the hurt is real or imagined). As can be imagined, such a defense leads to aggressive behavior, such as shouting (verbal abuse) and possibly violence (physical abuse).
Psychological defenses are a primary cause of negative anger patterns. Typically, anger patterns include uncontrollable outburst that indicate some sort of psychological issue that either is not being – or has never been – properly addressed. Looks look at some examples:
- Every once in a while, Jack gets into an argument with his wife Jill and starts yelling at her. He is unable to control these outbursts. After several years, Jill divorces Jack, who is devastated. He goes to therapy and is able to learn that he suffers from issues of self-worth, and does not feel that he is lovable. As a result, he felt the need to “please his wife” in order to ensure that she would always love him. Jack would work long hours at a stressful job he didn’t like in order to make Jill happy. What Jack didn’t realize is that doing such things for Jill led to a subconscious buildup of resentment. And the resentment would lead to angry outbursts that Jack could not control.
- Tom loves to spend time with his granddaughter Judy. But lately, he has become irritated by Judy’s pattern of cheating at board games. He is surprised at how much this bothers him, and gets very angry at her when it happens. At the same time, Tom is in a legal fight with his neighbors over a boundary between their two properties. From a psychological point of view, Tom feels that his neighbors are attacking him, but he also feels powerless to do anything. Subconsciously, Tom relates the unfairness of his neighbor’s actions with the cheating of his granddaughter. The anger towards his neighbors is therefore targeted toward Judy.
- As a teenager, Jane became pregnant. This infuriated her parents, and caused Jane a lot of shame. As a mother, Jane is now fearful of her young daughter Jessica making the same “mistake”. As a result, she tries to control Jessica’s behavior in order to protect her. One night, Jessica comes home from a party after curfew. Jane is furious, yells at Jessica for being a slut and physically attacks her when Jessica tries to defend herself. Jane is later ashamed of her behavior, but is also unable to stop it. The abuse continues until Jessica moves out of the house.
In summary: anger patterns are the result of psychological pain that is not addressed in a healthy manner.
Anxiety, Depression & Suicide
Anxiety and depression are two very common mental health issues in today’s society. By now, it should come as no surprise that these two issues originate from fear.
Anxiety tends to be caused by a general fear of the future. It is a fear that life won’t work out. There is a constant fear of failure relating to relationships, career, education, etc.
Depression is less about fearing the future in general, and more about a fear of personal failure, particularly in relation to pursuing one’s life dreams. To avoid the pain of failure, people “give up” on life. What is not well-known is that the capacity to feel pain mimics one’s capacity to feel pleasure. Therefore, by avoiding the pain of failure, a depressed person is also blocking their ability to feel the pleasure resulting from success.
Suicidal episodes are often the result of prolonged periods or depression. Episodes are sometimes sparked by personal life crises (such as loss of job or loved one), but this isn’t always the case. The main thing in common for suicidal episodes is that life seems hopeless and/or pointless. This is due to the suicidal person’s perception that their life is a failure, coupled with the fear that life cannot get better. Suicide is therefore another (dysfunctional) method of pain avoidance by avoiding what is seen as a future in which escape from pain is impossible.
Society is quite conservative when it comes to labelling addiction; in general it is considered compulsive action that has negative consequences. I, on the other hand, would ask you to be open to considering addiction as any compulsive behavior (whether or not negative consequences are apparent). In other words, addiction is anything that you could not immediately give up for a significant period of time of your own volition without psychological suffering.
I realize people might be surprised by this definition, as it would suggest many people are addicted to sex. In that case, I would like to stress the fact that you are judging addiction as “bad”, which is ultimately counter-productive. Spirituality is not about judging behavior; it is about using behavior as a way to find and heal psycho-spiritual wounds in order to evolve. Judging ourselves leads to self-deception, which in turn closes the door on “Knowing Thyself”. Instead, always be curious about your actions and intentions (regardless of how others might judge them) in order to gain significant insights about yourself.
Regardless of what a person is addicted to, the source is always the same. Addiction is about some sort of escape from psychological pain. And although it is not possible to generalize the exact source of addiction, it’s possible that certain types of addictions have a “dominant” cause.
Below are some possible dominant causes for various types of addiction:
Pornography, masturbation: resulting from a general lack of pleasure in life (depression); provides a “hit” of pleasure without the need for a cooperative partner.
Alcohol: a way to escape the pain of feeling unworthy, possibly due to a history of being physically or sexually abused.
Drugs: depends on the type of drug. Marijuana is used to escape anxiety, and also used to escape physical pain (which builds up from resisting a lesser pain due to fear). Other drugs can also be used for pain-relief, and also for temporary pleasure for those suffering from depression. Although drug use can initially begin due to peer pressure or simple curiosity, the addiction in most cases likely occurs because of mental health issues that are already present.
Eating disorders: hiding from the pain caused by social or romantic relationships, or due to an unhealthy perception of one’s physical body.
Video Games, TV: resulting from depression or low self-esteem.
Sex: Hiding from the pain of not feeling lovable. Sex is therefore a tool used to validate one’s capability of being loved. For example, a person who did not feel he was never good enough for his parents might use sex for validation, which could result in forcing sex on a partner or cheating on spouse.
Escaping From Negative Patterns of Behavior
To summarize so far:
Many people have an unhealthy perception of pain. I.e., they subconsciously believe pain is a sign that they are “bad”, or that they did something “wrong”. As a result, they become afraid of actions that they believe will lead to further pain.
There are two key steps to eliminating negative patterns of behavior, and neither one could be considered easy. The steps are:
- Identify the source of the fear. What is it that you are afraid of?
- Reprogram your subconscious to eliminate the fear.
Identify the Fear
Negative patterns of behavior are the symptom of fear. But the actual fear may not be obvious by examining these patterns of behavior. Or at least, they may not be obvious to you.
Most people have gotten into the habit of deceiving themselves about their true motives and intentions. Yet what they are doing remains quite obvious to other people. So sooner or later, it will be necessary to learn how to become completely honest with yourself about your true intentions and behaviors.
But initially, it may be helpful to engage the services of a professional therapist to help you. The entire point of a therapy (from a spiritual point of view) is to enable you to understand yourself at deeper and deeper levels. In other words: therapy enables you to see the reality about yourself, but within the context of a safe and supportive environment. A therapist sees you from an unbiased viewpoint, and is therefore likely to be able to identify the source of your negative patterns (or at the very least, help you identify them).
Eliminate the Fear
I have no doubt that there are certain healing techniques (such as regression therapy) that can work for certain people under certain situations to eliminate a specific fear. And if you feel intuitively guided to try any of those such techniques, that is certainly your choice.
The approach that I suggest in this article is practical, and it can be implemented by anyone without the help of a professional. But it does take an element of self-will. For this method to work, you must have a strong desire to heal yourself.
The idea is quite simple: if you fear something, you must do that exact thing you fear enough times until your subconscious mind realizes that the fear is not justified. It is basically a variation of the phrase “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I.e., you become stronger by realizing that the thing you were afraid of won’t kill you. Or more accurately: it won’t even harm you.
Let’s say that Mike is extremely afraid to ask a woman on a date because he is afraid of rejection. So for a while, he stays lonely and unhappy. But finally, Mike can’t stand the misery of being lonely any longer. He gathers up the courage to ask out this woman he really likes, only to discover that she is already married with a small child.
Yes, it was scary. Yes, he was technically rejected. But Mike is still alive. Not only that, he might even discover that the fear of asking was much worse than the asking itself.
The more times you do the thing that you fear, the less you become afraid. After a while, you will no longer be afraid. As your fears are eliminated, the negative patterns based on those fears will disappear as well. And you will discover that by overcoming your fears, you are moving your life in the direction that you always wanted.