Finding and Treating the Source of Discontentment for Lasting Relief

Illustration showing the path from discontentment to lasting relief and happiness.

“The key to happiness is learning how to endure suffering.”

Anais Nin

My whole family has a history of running. They want to avoid experiencing any kind of distress, whether physical or mental.

My mother fled to Texas from her controlling mother when she was 17 years old. She was unable to bear the anguish of feeling inadequate to her parents or to herself. Without a sideways glance, she abandoned her family and friends in Mississippi.

She was seeking any sign that she was doing OK since she had just recovered from anorexia.

My dad left Chile in his 40s to travel the globe and eventually settled in Texas. He yearned for a more satisfying experience, one that would make him feel whole.

When my mom and dad met, she was 17 and he was 42. My parents had my brother within a year of being married, and it wasn’t because they were a perfect fit. A year later, my mother, who was already overwhelmed, gave birth to me.

I’ve always had a nagging feeling that things weren’t quite right. Even as a young child, my heightened sensitivity allowed me to pick up on my mother’s internal tension and wrath.

I knew these feelings existed, but I couldn’t make sense of them. Like most kids my age, I thought those feelings were about me. Since I had clearly made a mistake, I resolved to rectify the situation.

I made it my job to keep my mother happy since she was prone to angry outbursts. For the sake of my mom and dad, I sacrificed all I could. My parents would get furious if I exhibited my sentiments, so I learned to stifle them.

I learned to accept my inherent worthlessness and flaws and to be grateful that my parents provided for me.

The stress I placed on myself eventually led to a breakdown. When my parents argued, I always felt responsible since I didn’t think I was doing enough to make them happy.

I felt like a failure when my dad disappeared for a year. My mother’s yelling at me was like having a dagger plunge through my chest; it just served to confirm my worst suspicions about myself.

Around the age of seven, anxiety and poor self-esteem really set in. I was embarrassed that my mother was often complaining about how quickly I was developing.

We felt anxious every time we went shopping for new clothing or shoes. Because I outgrew my clothing so quickly, I realized I didn’t merit any replacements. So, I’d have to act fast and choose the least expensive option, crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t break the bank.

I felt the worst kind of guilt when I was eight years old and my mother placed my brother and me on a diet. I wasn’t fat by any stretch of the imagination, but my sister always worried that I would follow in her brother’s fat footsteps.

When I was younger, I used to dread opening my lunchbox since the scent of the fried eggs always made people look.

I made more of an effort as I got older since I didn’t want my mother’s ire. I did all I could for my family, including getting consecutive As in school, playing sports, helping out in the kitchen, and more. Because I didn’t feel deserving, I never made any requests.

The suffering and self-loathing culminated in a breaking point. I felt like I was suffocating under their onslaught. Eventually, I learned to avoid being in settings where these feelings surfaced.

After a while, I avoided the school cafeteria altogether in favor of hiding out in the restroom or a teacher’s office during lunch. Most interactions with others were avoided because I knew they would trigger my insecurities. The simple act of going to the supermarket caused undue stress. I didn’t think much of myself and only went when it was absolutely essential.

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My inability to deal with my feelings began to affect other areas of my life. Despite my intelligence and drive, I often set myself up for failure on purpose.

I poisoned every friendship and romance I have had by worrying that the other person would abandon me.

I got along in life by putting myself in secure environments and avoiding anything that triggered sad memories or feelings.

Then the suffering started. My knee started to feel stiff and out of place. Then I hurt my foot. Precancerous cells were found on my cervix. Then, the worst part, I started experiencing signs of interstitial cystitis, an “incurable” bladder ailment. I suffered everything from back aches to shoulder discomfort to stomach pain as the symptoms persisted.

My world had completely collapsed around me. Until recently, I had the best health of everyone I knew. I had no idea what was going on with me, so I tried to keep the symptoms a secret.

Various treatments I tried helped momentarily, while others were completely useless. I wasted hundreds of dollars on useless pills and publications.

As I lay awake one night, suffering from various aches and pains, I happened upon a webpage. Repressed emotions were linked to almost every addiction and sickness listed. I didn’t believe it at first, but then I realized maybe I needed to pay more attention to how I was feeling.

In order to mend, I took a trip away. Instead of avoiding them, I resolved to confront them head-on. That’s a lot of pent-up feelings to ignore for thirty years. But if there’s one thing I am, it’s dogged in my pursuit of a goal.

Going grocery shopping was the first step in my recovery.

I tried to ignore the fact that shopping there made me anxious and just sped through the store. This time, I faced my nervousness head-on by going to the store.

It was a sudden onslaught, but I stayed still. Every part of me felt like it was being strained and stretched. The tears began to flow a few minutes later. Underneath all the worry was a sorrowful young girl who just wanted to hear that she was loved and that she mattered to someone.

As I got to my vehicle, I let the tears flow freely. This is something I’ve done several times. At other moments, I would be completely at peace.

As a result, I began to focus more intently on my actions. Instead of avoiding uncomfortable feelings or situations when they arose, I forced myself to experience them without resorting to distractions like food or exercise.

I didn’t try to figure out what was triggering my feelings, and I didn’t dwell on the past. I just gave in to my emotions.

Behind all that armor, there were rivers of sorrow. The tearing eventually subsided, and the other symptoms disappeared. It took a few months of paying attention to my feelings on purpose.

The drama I had made in my life, I concluded, had been an attempt to shield myself from suffering. Interestingly, the more I tried to run away from the discomfort, the worse it became.

In the end, I realized the value of suffering. As a result, we grow and learn from it. It’s unnecessary to avoid it. Just as a rainbow appears after a storm, so too can pleasure appear after suffering.

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