“No pain, no gain.” “Just get it over with.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Blah Blah Blah. You don’t need a psychologist to hear these attractive but short-sighted insights.
These platitudes all have something in common that renders them nearly useless. Whether or not intended, they convey mental pain or discomfort as something to be disregarded, if not completely avoided. Sure, some statements (particularly the first) encourage some appreciation of what pain (effort?) might bring. But all of them frame it in a way that minimizes its importance.
What about the now-popular phrase, “Lean into the discomfort”? While that, too, runs the risk of cliché, there’s something more to it. I’ve been a therapist for quite a long time and have preached something akin to this for most of those years. That said, I only recently began focusing on just what the discomfort, itself, can provide.
It took on a new level of awareness, recently, when I read an article about a specific current event for which my thoughts and beliefs fell very strongly to one side of the embedded political argument. The article, however, very meticulously and convincingly argued for the faults on both sides of the occurrence. And was THAT ever uncomfortable! I felt my defenses lined up for battle; my heartfelt beliefs in all of their glorious vulnerability.
And then, some crucial changes: Could it be that what I found entirely indefensible about the other side actually had some merit? Could I be shoring up defenses for my own thoughts and actions but not allowing for the growth that comes from real self-questioning? In the end, engaging in this way did not fundamentally change my core beliefs (nor should it have). It did, however, bring about a more peaceful, genuine mindset that felt more, not less, empowered to speak on behalf of my convictions.
It got me thinking: “What else could this apply to?”
- The discomfort of e-learning for our students, and the role of parents in these strange and unpredictable COVID epidemic days. The discomfort brought new perspective to the learner’s struggles as well as insight into potentially leveraging the extra parent-child time.
- The alienated feeling of the epidemic, and how important our social connections are. Avoiding rather than acknowledging that discomfort only serves to keep us more apart than our situation dictates.
- Self-sabotage, and how the avoidance of discomfort just keeps that amotivaton right in place.
Most importantly, it got me thinking about ways to use the discomfort that comes with the sometimes-awkward but safely socially distant telehealth platform. While I look forward to the day I can safely resume in-person sessions at my South Florida office, I’ve been conducting virtual therapy sessions exclusively since this past March. While in-person therapy has its distinct discomforts, the video session has a unique set of challenges. Why not talk about them? The response with my current clients has been superb; viewing it as a model for how we currently have to conduct our lives and leaning into the discomfort it creates has provided my clients (and me) with valuable tools and perspective to more effectively navigate these trying times and the emotional challenges they highlight.
Don’t be too fast to push away the discomfort; there’s value in getting to know it.