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We suffer. Buddhists refer to this as Samsara. The first noble truth of Buddhism is, “Life is suffering.”
What your suffering looks and feels like is unique to you. But you are a human being and like many of us who eventually find ourselves here, you may be looking around for better ways to manage your suffering. You might even wonder if it is possible to have freedom from suffering.
If you are seeking something different, it may be because your suffering gets in the way of having the life you want. Or, you may be seeking answers because you don’t want the life you have and you don’t know how to stop having it. You don’t know how to stop suffering.
I can tell you with confidence that suffering is not necessary and that there are ways to alleviate and even eliminate suffering most of the time.
How can I be so confident?
I have traveled through the dark valley of suffering and have come out the other side. I used alcohol and other strategies to manage my suffering. I was an insanely insecure husband convinced that my wife would betray me some day.
I was out of control with my need to control. My best shot at a happy life was to avoid anything that might hurt, scare, or anger me. When my efforts to avoid suffering failed, I blamed circumstances and the people in my life.
I spent years in depression and suffered from anxiety but didn’t know that’s what it was called. I lost my first wife to cancer after I had been clean and sober for seven years. My second marriage was filled with suffering for myself and my entire family. After the divorce I desperately sought answers. After 20 years of sobriety, there had to be more. Something was missing.
I started finding the support and answers I was looking for. Gradually my suffering eased. I began to realize that I had all I needed to heal and grow and develop built right in. Today I live with intention and purpose and I rarely suffer. When I do suffer, I know what to do to recover and step back into my power.
I learned that suffering can be understood and that we all have the power to do something about it.
Richard Schwartz created the Internal Family Systems model (IFS)*. He wasn’t the first person to recognize that human beings have multiple psychological parts. When I discovered IFS, I began to understand my suffering. I was surprised to realize that accepting, embracing, and understanding my suffering were the keys to ending it.
I learned that at various points in my life, parts of me got stuck and remained oriented to the past events that were too painful, scary, confusing, or overwhelming for me to fully process. The pain of these events stayed in me and other parts became committed to avoiding similar circumstances. I developed strategies to stay safe and avoid the risk of feeling that old pain. But life insisted on serving up circumstances that triggered my old pain.
Between the pain and the management of that pain, I ended up with entire groups of parts that were trying to help me by avoiding circumstances that could trigger my pain. Other parts stood ready to react when my pain was triggered to restore order and control.
This is the nature of my suffering. My parts react to current circumstances as if I am still back in that past, painful experience. And when they do, they blend in with the current version of myself and I feel what they feel. I suffer.
Fortunately, thanks to the IFS model, I have learned that I am more than just my parts and my suffering. At my core, I am an authentic, resourced, and powerful Self. I am Self and I have parts.
I believe this is true for you too. At your core, you are an authentic, resourced, and powerful Self. You are Self and have parts. This is very good news. It means you don’t have to suffer.
Now, just realizing that you don’t have to suffer is not the same as not suffering. So how can you use the awareness of who you really are to stop suffering?
Your parts are currently organized around the painful experiences of the past they are still stuck in. To stop suffering you will need to take an active role in reorganizing your inner world. This will involve a shift in strategy away from attempting to manage your external circumstances. In IFS, this is called doing a U-turn.
Some of your parts perceive your current life through a lens distorted by the outdated past. To reclaim your power and choice, you will need to help your parts become oriented to present circumstances.**
Until they are updated, the parts that are still tethered to the past will influence and inform your preferences, choices, and behaviors. By becoming aware of these parts, and taking the time to understand and appreciate what they are trying to do for you, they will begin to relax and become open to understanding that the circumstances of your life have improved. When they trust that their attempts to help are no longer required, they become willing to take on new roles and follow the leadership of the resourced Self.
This begins a gradual process that allows room internally for the development of Self-leadership. Evidence of this evolving internal environment includes a new vision for life that reflects our true purpose. Preferences, choices, and behaviors align with true purpose as we develop trust-based relationships with our parts.
Under the leadership of Self, the internal world becomes balanced and stable. This internal peace manifests externally. Rather than living to avoid and manage suffering, we begin to live as our fully resourced and powerful Self.
*For more information about IFS, go to IFS-Institute.com
**If your current circumstances are still creating pain for you and others you don’t have an environment which is safe enough for your parts to be updated. Before you can be open to the benefits of the IFS model, your current life circumstances will need to change and improve. You may be more appropriately served by a crisis management counselor or by social services that can help you establish safety and security.