This week, I took a break from marketing my self-improvement site to watch a video my daughter sent me of her two toddlers jumping around in a bounce house. They tumbled around with wild abandon, their high-pitched shrieks of delight filling the air. I chuckled as I watched them take joy in such a simple thing.
There is apparently no limit to the ways the brain experiences joy, as evidenced by my grandchildren. But conversely, the brain also has no end to the ways it can experience misery and depression. One of the fundamental steps in my journey to overcoming depression was the realization I had below, and I hope you’ll find it useful.
The Path of Least Resistance
Due to the somewhat arbitrary nature of life, we are all victimized at some time in our lives. When that occurs, we have a choice: Choose to remain the victim and thus become stuck in our story, or to gain victory over the victim and start on a journey of empowerment.
Obviously being a victor is preferable to being a victim, but there's one small problem: our subconscious. By default, our subconscious always takes us on the path of lowest pain and least resistance. This wonderful mechanism keeps us safe and filled with maximum energy to navigate the challenges that threaten our progress or even our very existence.
Psychologically, this results in the subconscious constructing elaborate ways of reducing the emotional pain caused by the choices we have made. We tell ourselves it's about someone or something else, not about us, which is usually fundamentally true.
However, this mindset is not helpful in overcoming depression, and in fact creates deeper resentment and pain. To salve our wounds, we constantly re-tell the story to reassure ourselves that we’re right, they’re monsters, and we’re not responsible for our current situation. That's what is known as the being the victim, or being "stuck in the story."
In short, our natural tendency is to move to a victimized mindset when things don’t turn out in a way that meets our expectations. In the short term, this is a much more pain-free, comfortable, and apparently accurate place to be.
So there’s the paradox: While we are completely justified in feeling like a victim of circumstance, that mindset causes us indescribable mental pain and suffering.
Getting UnStuck: The Pain Portal
Ironically, the path of escaping our stuck stories is exactly the opposite of what we as human beings would naturally do. It requires us to not only admit we are stuck and suffering, but to actually move into the pain and accept it as our pathway, or portal to freedom.
It’s totally counterintuitive, and seems like the last thing we would want to do. Kind of like running into the fire. Normally, we try to avoid, reduce or eliminate pain. But the ironic reality is that within our pain are the answers to our deepest victimization.
I once wrote a small couplet:
Everyone has a wound,
Every wound has a gift.
The deeper the wound, the greater the gift.
Discovering the gifts in our pain and wounding is one of the most healing, freeing experiences available, particularly when we are struggling with depressed feelings. It’s the harder road initially, but ultimately the portal to freedom and joy.
I’ll be talking about how to resolve this paradox by entering the “Pain Portal” in my next blog post. In the meantime, feel free to take a look at my book on Amazon.