Most, if not all of us, have gone through a traumatic experience or a period of sadness. It is part of life. However, many of us do not know how to deal with pain. While we all know that pain is something that we all go through and that we should expect it occasionally, many of us are easily swept away by emotional burdens when we are confronted by traumatic and painful experiences.
some of us have found effective ways of dealing with these experiences while
others have not. Some of us seek assistance from professionals like
psychologists, social work therapists or psychiatrists. Some seek emotional and
spiritual support through religious or spiritual leaders.
some of us are prevented from seeking any emotional support or psychological encouragements
because of cultural barriers that rationalize emotional vulnerability as a weakness
of will. In this case, people would rather suffer in silence rather than
subject themselves to emotional abuses by community members or risk being
for those of us who approach life with a more philosophical – täk-centered—perspective,
a different approach is always available. But note that this approach is not appropriate
for everyone. Philosophical approaches such as the one I use tend to approach
life for what it is rather than what one wants it to be. In this
case, what I try to change is not the problem but how the problem
affects me. The problem will always come occasionally so I attempt to devise
ways to deal with the problem instead of trying to change something I cannot
therefore find the words of the 18th Century German Philosopher,
Arthur Schopenhauer, personally helpful. In Studies in Pessimism,
Schopenhauer argues that “life is a task to be done.” Approaching life as a
“task” puts me in a frame of mind that enables me to approach life with a-solution-approach.
I tell myself that “Good and bad things will always happen, so I have to
Schopenhauer, “Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our
existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous
amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs
and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and
the result of mere chance. Each separate misfortune, as it comes, seems, no
doubt, to be something exceptional; but misfortune in general is the rule.”
sees suffering everywhere because of our needs, our quest to be “happy”, so he
wonders if suffering if the object of life or if suffering in the world
serves nothing at all. If suffering is not the object of life and that we are
meant to be happy, then life would only expose us to happiness not suffering. But
if suffering is the object of life, then the suffering in life makes sense. If happiness
is the object of life then why do evil, sadness and suffering seem to be the
main procurements of life?
goes ahead and said that “I have reminded the reader that every state of
welfare, every feeling of satisfaction, is negative in its character; that is
to say, it consists in freedom from pain, which is the positive element of existence.
It follows, therefore, that the happiness of any given life is to be measured,
not by its joys and pleasures, but by the extent to which it has been free from
suffering--from positive evil.”
whether you become happy or accomplished in something, it means that you have
displaced something in yourself, that is, evil that was present. Our happiness
entails the displacement of evil (+) by “feeling of satisfaction” or “state of
how does this seemingly dark philosophical view help someone going through a trauma
or pain? What I note is that pain is with us most of the time, so I try to find
ways to get rid of it. I do not focus on the fact that I am sad or in pain
because pain is something to expect all the time. I only focus on how to get
rid of the pain. I do not waste my time trying to brood over the pain or trauma
because they are facts of life. I spend my time trying to get rid of what is
present, the positive evil, by the negative happiness — negative because I do
not possess it when I am sad.
that evil is present in our lives all the time frees me from assuming the unhelpful
mindset of “why me lord?” I think to myself: “Okay, here is some pain, how do I
get rid of it?”
is avoided in this philosophical approach is what Jean-Paul Sartre, in Sketch
for a Theory of the Emotions, calls “magical behavior”. Magical thinking
is an emotional state where one expects the world to change to fit what one
wants it to be after finding no solution to the problems one is facing. John Searle in Seeing Things as They are: A Theory of Perception refers
to this attitude as directions of fit: mind-to-world and world-to-mind.
The mind-to-world behavior attempts to make us conform to world events,
whatever they are. The world-to-mind, the Sartrean “magical behavior”,
attempts to change the world to fit what our lives want.
we fail in a certain task in the world, Sartre argues, we try to magically
transform the character of the object in our task. Magical behavior therefore masks our failures
by transferring the problem to the object. Sartre explains: “I lift my hand to
pluck a bunch of grapes. I cannot do so; they are beyond my reach; so I shrug
my shoulders, muttering: ‘they are too green’, and go on my way.” So instead of acknowledging one’s failure for
not reaching the grapes, one shifts the focus away from the failure to reach
the grapes and suddenly (bizarrely) confers on them the quality of being “green”
and no longer an object of interest.
example. Think about a young man who tells his friends about a beautiful woman
he is interested in asking out. But when he asks her out and she said “no”, he
brushed the rejection aside and sneered: “She ain’t that beautiful anyway!” Instead
of accepting the rejection as an inherent character of the world, what
Heidegger calls being-in the-world, he transformed the woman. Apparently, the beauty
of the woman is not in-the-world but depends on his desires.
if you are going through a painful phase, know that you must find a solution to
it because it will constantly come as part of life. And as Schopenhauer tells
us, “Life is a task to be done.” So do life!
Notes: The books referenced in the article are provided as hyperlinks.