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Why do we endure pain?

I am visiting my parents for the holidays…

And while I’m here, I am coaching a Very Important Person…
My mother.

Today’s “Unexpected Lesson” has to do with endurance. Specifically with enduring pain.

Comfort copy

My Mum was wearing a nice pair of shoes which, after walking a few blocks, began to hurt her feet. Eventually they drew blood on her toe.
She’s worn them before; they have hurt her before.

So I pointed out the obvious: why was she wearing those shoes again?

She has other shoes. And she has money to buy new shoes, should she choose to.

But she endures. She endures the suffering. Because that’s what she’s been raised to do.

Enduring pain is a “value”

If you’ve grown up in “this” culture… By which I mean “western culture and possibly the eastern too but I cannot be too sure”, then you have been programmed to value “endurance”.

The capacity to put up with pain and discomfort is a “value” in its own right. It’s not that “we value the capacity to put up with discomfort because there’s this very important thing that needs doing”.
No. It’s “endurance” for its own sake that we value. Tolerating pain for its own sake.

And it doesn’t stop at that.

Because we also have “valuing suffering” for its own sake. Like this: “if you suffer in the way of doing something, this something is more valuable”.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of “work” and “making a living” and “earning money”. You must suffer for it to be “work”. For it to be “meaningful”. For it to be “worthy”.

We are programmed, since childhood, to endure discomfort… we are programmed to suffer, because it’s through suffering that the “fruits of labour” feel meaningful.

We are programmed to endure pain because… that prepares us for a life of suffering. We assume that life will be hard.

Questioning the programming

Yes, life will put pain in our path, that’s kind of inevitable.
But suffering for its own sake? That’s completely unnecessary.

Because it doesn’t even occur to us to make things easier for ourselves, or more comfortable, we don’t even try.

I am talking about things we all endure even though nobody is forcing us. Even though we don’t really have to.

Why do we wear uncomfortable shoes?
Why don’t we listen to our bodies when they express discomfort?
Why don’t we take a nap if we’re tired?
Why don’t we eat when we’re hungry, or stop eating when we’re full?
Why don’t we rest, if we can feel a cold is coming?
Why don’t we stretch our muscles when they feel tight?

In short: why do we keep “pushing” through discomfort?

Sometimes we can’t choose, and that’s awful. And there’s a lot of pain in that.
But sometimes we can choose. And we don’t realise we can choose because we have been programmed to “endure”. As if something special came out of “enduring”.
As if we were “better” or “wiser” or “stronger” for having endured.

Uncomfortable shoes.
Painful tasks.
Degrading jobs.
Abusive relationships.

We place the onus on “ourselves”. “I must adapt myself to this uncomfortable situation. I must endure and grow tougher if I’m to survive in this world”.

I bought into this lie for so, so long… And it never served me well.
I stayed in jobs that meant physical and emotional pain.
I stayed in abusive relationships with men who hated me.

And all because I was living under this programme “I must adapt myself” and “be tougher”.
Because it never occurred to me that it might be possible to find something that “fits me”.

My Mum was shocked too. She told me a story of a time when she was a tiny child, and asked her mother for something… And her mother chided her, just for asking.

My Mum then then told me it doesn’t even occur to her to question why she’s enduring. It doesn’t even occur to her to not “suffer” simply because… there’s no need to.

So… how do we escape the “endurance programming”?

  • listen to the body. Your body will almost never lead you astray. If it hurts, you need to pay attention. Always.

  • you can’t “think yourself” out of this endurance programming.

You can’t say to yourself “oh, this endurance programming comes out of the agricultural mindset, and we know that this is only a cultural thing and since I don’t agree with this culture I don’t accept it. Ta da.”

This is all very well and good, but it doesn’t get to the “emotional” aspect of things. The “endurance is good” programming runs on the emotional level, and bypasses your rational mind.
That’s where we need to work. And we can only do that by going into the emotional level.

We need to notice how this programming makes us feel.

How do we feel if we do something well and it comes out easily? Do we feel like we’re “cheating”? Do we think it’s not really “worthy”? Do we think it’s “cheap”? Do we think “we shouldn’t get paid to do this”?

  • There are always more choices than we realise. But we don’t see them because we’re in pain.

If we acknowledge the pain and care for it, the pain “quiets down” and we can see our choices.

But if we don’t acknowledge the pain, we won’t see the choices. The pain will be “too loud”.
Pain wants to be acknowledged. (you can read more about this in my free e-book “Work with your Stuff”)

  • realising that there are more choices than we think there can be hard.

Sometimes it’s a relief: “you mean I don’t have to wear uncomfortable shoes? I can wear the comfortable ones?!? YAY!”.

And sometimes it’s a pain… Because we have to face the whole: “I’ve been hurting all this time and for what?!?!”. Because it shakes our sense of the world “maybe not everything is horrible”. Because it challenges our sense of ourselves “maybe I have more power to change my life than I think I have”.

Whatever it is, it tends to be hard. So bring in patience and compassion and kindness for yourself.

  • never underestimate how challenging bringing in more “comfort” can be.

If you think of yourself as a “tough” person? Comfort will challenge your sense of identity.

You may experience fear that you will become “soft” and then what? What will you do if life gets hard again?

Comfort is challenging. There may be tears. That’s OK. It’s part of the process.


Hope you found this helpful.

And as for my Mum’s shoes…? They’ve gone to a better place.

No really, they have. She’s given them to charity. Hopefully someone with smaller feet will find them and wear them without hurting at all.


PS: never, ever endure uncomfortable shoes. It’s not worth it.

PPS: remember you can download my e-book “Work with your Stuff” to help you start your “working with your issues” practice.

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