One of the most predictable things human beings are likely to suffer is pain. If there is objective truth, it’s that The Lord of the Rings is the best film series ever made, and that anyone who has lived has experienced pain of some kind.
If it is a case of physical pain, like if your sibling has smacked you with a pillow just a little too hard, you probably want to avoid that. In my case, this type of pain has developed into what I dub ‘little brother syndrome’ – I, infallibly, flinch anytime someone raises their arm near me.
It seems that we can do the same thing with emotional pains. When someone has hurt us in a specific way – say as a child – then we, anytime we perceive it happening again, will ‘flinch’, so to speak. That is, we will act in a way that tries to avoid said pain.
People act in a myriad of ways as a manifestation of ‘the flinch’. Some get angry, others become upset, some simply run away and avoid the problem. However, this does not often lead to a resolution to the threat of pain.
One cannot remove the threat of pain from their future (or even their present), just as one cannot wrap their child in bubble wrap and keep them safe forever. What does one do, then, in face of this pain?
A long time ago
A long time ago, I read a book called ‘the flinch’. In this book, the author (Julien Smith) posits that the way to overcome our flinch response is to face ‘the flinch’ head on. To willingly confront the thing that we fear and put our bodies into the precise path of danger or pain that it is trying to avoid.
This is not some sick, sadist dream to experience as much pain as you can.
The pain has a purpose.
Or rather, one needs to clearly define the purpose before confronting the pain. That purpose could be the overcoming of that pain. Julien Smith writes about confronting ‘the flinch’ through very practical means. He suggests one should confront it in the form of a cold shower (the closer to hypothermia, the better).
“As the cold water hits you, you might shout or squirm. But the discomfort lasts only a second. You quickly get used to it. You get comfortable with cold, instead of trying to avoid it. You put yourself in the path of the shower to speed up the adjustment process.
Remember your reaction. You can use this method for everything.”
(Smith, 2011, p. 16)
I hope you are catching the essence of this idea, since it is not just a way of having the most discomforting showers imaginable. If you are afraid of rejection, then put yourself on the path to it. A psychologist once suggested that men who were afraid of exactly this could try going out and asking 100 women for a date. Either they would get rejected and learn that this did not end the world, but they would learn that they were a lot tougher than they initially believed (and they might end up with a date).
For me, this most regularly translates to conflict. I will avoid conflict if I can because I have felt physical pain in the emotions associated with a personal disagreement. However, I am learning more and more that should I seek out conflict, I will exercise my coping skills as an athlete exercises their muscles. This has led to the realisation that conflict, while painful, can be approached in such a way that a greater good is had and that the future which might come true because of not facing that fear could be far, far scarier.
Human beings are unbelievably tough. They possess an attitude and will that, if nurtured, can literally change the world. Pain can be complex. It can be hidden in uncertainties and crippling fears that cause us to run away from the problems, but with creativity (and no small dose of courage), one might be able to embrace their pain with a purpose that proves we are so much tougher than we ever believed ourselves.
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation. Josiah’s previous articles may be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html