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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I have often heard it said that we grow through pain. How can pain make us strong?

Answer

One aspect of good self-esteem is to have a sense of where our strengths are and to have a sense of being able to cope. We can only really develop that sense of where we are strong by having that strength tested. Otherwise that self-knowledge will be merely an assumption. But when we face adversity and can admit to ourselves that we handled it fairly well, we know we are strong.

Some people view strength to be the facing of some adversity with little reaction and no sense that it is a struggle. Nothing could be further from the truth. The image that I might use is that of a great weight lifter such as we see during the Olympics. That person lifts a great weight over his/her head, groaning and straining all the while, seeming just on the edge of collapse. Yet clearly we would not judge such a feat to be a reflection of weakness. So the groaning and straining we might do in the midst of facing pain is simply testimony to the reality that it does hurt!

Pain whether physical, emotional, or spiritual helps us find our true strength because pain pushes us to our limits. In facing pain we face fear. We face self-doubt. We even sometimes face despair. These are the fires that temper our inner steel, giving us confidence that, in the face of future pain, we are capable of surviving. This knowledge in turn gives us a greater sense of self-esteem.

03/15/98

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.

 

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