“Hurtful, painful memories. Only those with such memories in their hearts can become stronger, more passionate, and emotionally flexible. And only they can attain happiness.”
This is a quote from the 2020 South Korean TV mini-series titled ‘It’s Okay Not to Be Okay’, which was recently nominated for an Emmy Award under the ‘TV Movie / Mini-Series’ category. And in the context of the aforementioned quote, there seems to be an emphasis on embracing one’s hurts rather than trying to live a life without any pain at all. It’s implied here that only the people who experience pain and loss can grow emotionally until they’re able to attain a new level of happiness.
This isn’t a novel sentiment. Psychology has long promoted the idea that one shouldn’t run from their problems.
Sure, avoiding one’s problems or even hiding past hurts are short-term means of coping. And the way a person should approach past traumas varies accordingly, so there’s no one-size-fits-all method for everyone to confront what hurts them.
But to move forward, we are often encouraged to drop the weight that holds us down. That includes the emotional baggage we carry around with us, either knowingly or unwittingly. And to do so, it’s important to first embrace the primary, obvious thing we’re dealing with: our pain.
Finding Meaning in Suffering and Moving Forward
When people suffer, they often ask a very common, simple question: “Why?”
Asking oneself why suffering occurs isn’t necessarily a straightforward question. Sometimes, there’s just no explanation as to why we suffer or bear a certain hurt. Sometimes we just suffer because something bad happened. Sometimes there might not even be a satisfactory answer as to why we experience pain.
Psychology Today identifies this tendency to ask “why” as the human knee-jerk reaction to suffering. Amidst our pain, sometimes we seek the meaning behind our suffering rather than the cause of it.
Here’s an example. Blair Kaplan Venables, the president of social media marketing firm Blair Kaplan Communications and the founder of the I Am Resilient Project, chose to face her pain and to give it meaning through her career.
Kaplan Venables had lived a ‘full’ life in terms of dealing with her fair share of suffering. After rebuilding a rocky relationship with her estranged father, she discovered he would soon succumb to a terminal illness. Sometime after, Blair narrowly survived a harrowing car crash. She also then had to deal with the anxiety and stress of watching her husband, Shayne, survive a heart attack and a quadruple bypass surgery.
But that wasn’t the end of her troubles. Both Kaplan Venables and her husband then had to cope with the loss of her mother (who fought an arduous battle with cancer) and her husband’s father.
These traumatic events occurred in a limited amount of time. Kaplan Venables was thrown off emotionally. She struggled to make sense of all she had just gone through.
To cope, Kaplan Venables turned to her writing. She authored ‘Pulsing Through My Veins: Raw and Real Stories From an Entrepreneur’, after which she created an avenue for others to share their own stories and struggles.
Kaplan Venables then founded the I Am Resilient Project. And through this project, she found meaning in her career by connecting it to her own journey towards healing.
Gaining Resilience After Embracing Our Darkest Moments
Tal Ben-Shahar, author of ‘Being Happy’, identified only two types of people who don’t experience emotional pain: psychopaths, and those who are dead. In essence, this means that pain is an inadvertent element in our lives. We cannot truly skip pain, as much as we try to avoid it.
This is why embracing our moments of darkness is essential. Acceptance, the final stage of grief, allows us to move on. To grow. By facing our issues, we can, at the very least, begin to address them.
Acceptance gives way to the eventual building of one’s resilience. The Oxford Advanced American Dictionary defines resilience as the ability of people or things to feel better quickly after something unpleasant”, like shock, injury, and so on. Amit Sood, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being, further said: “[Resilience is] your ability to withstand adversity and bounce back and grow despite life’s downturns.”
The common denominator here is recovery.
To get on the road to recovery, one must first embark on the journey from the very beginning. This means that we must accept reality when faced with difficult, even traumatic incidents. Wishing life turned out differently doesn’t make our current situation any less true.
Blair Kaplan Venables further emphasized in an interview that resilience is both an innate trait and something that can be developed throughout one’s lifetime.
“While some are blessed with natural grit, resilience — the ability to ‘bounce forward’ from difficulties — is a skill that can be acquired. In one sense, we will never really know how tough we are until we actually experience a tragedy.”
She affirmed that a solid support system and an outlet for one’s emotions, be they negative or positive, matter as well. Having a solid foundation helps a person balance and manage their emotions well enough to grow through adversity.
When Your Recovery Starts to Show in Other Aspects of Your Life
Growing from our pain takes time. It also takes a lot of effort and honesty. But eventually, we all get there someday.
It’s a no-brainer that once we recover from our past hurts, we start to see an improvement in our quality of life. But perhaps, in reality, we don’t see it right away. Healing looks different to everybody. Sometimes, we experience setbacks in our mental health. But this is not a cause for worry; emotional healing takes time, and it is well worth the effort required. We are worth the effort required to heal.
It’s also important to share our stories. On our road to emotional healing, we need to express with honesty just how we feel at certain points in our lives.
“Sharing your story and feelings will help you heal,” Blair Kaplan Venables said. “ Don’t keep everything bottled up inside. Write it down in a journal, call a friend or loved one, talk to a therapist, share on social media or write an article.”
Today, Kaplan Venables finds her passion rooted in her people-oriented projects. Her improved emotional and mental health does indeed show where her career has bloomed. Her roles as an author, speaker, and social media marketing coach all converge where she helps others achieve empowerment. Through her stories, she empowers others to embrace their own dark times.
“I share my stories as much as possible because it helps me heal and guides others on their healing journey.”
Essentially, we all possess the ability to embrace our darkest moments. We, too, are all called to grow from our hurts. We’re called to develop resilience and eventually heal. And through the stories we tell, through the truths we abide by, perhaps we can help others heal from their own dark times, too.
It all boils down to whether or not we want to take the first step.