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#52 Why the pain part IV: Pain is subjective

We will be spending the next few weeks looking at the question of pain, specifically trying to discover what pain wants to give us, what secrets are locked within our pain and what we can learn from them.



Imagine you and your spouse get invited for dinner with friends. As you are having dinner with the other couple, you start noticing some conflict between them. From sarcastic comments and jokes with a bit of sting in them, the situation escalates to a point where they are shouting at one another. Imagine you are sitting there, witnessing this fight. What do you think you will feel?


Whatever you feel in that moment will depend on your past experience.


For instance:


You may feel offended. You feel that they are disrespecting you and you just want to leave.


Maybe you feel relieved, because you and your partner have had fights like that too and now you don’t feel like you are that weird or extreme anymore.


You may feel calm, because you grew up in a house where your parents did the same thing, so you are used to it and it doesn’t really faze you. It seems normal to you and does not cause you any anxiety.


You may feel responsible, because perhaps you were the peacemaker in your house growing up. When your parents had a fight, you had to help them make up and get them to talk to each other again, or make some jokes to lighten the atmosphere.


Do you see how all the emotions that you are feeling in that moment are subject to your point of view, coloured by the way you experience the conflict and what you think of their behaviour?

In the same way, our pain is also subjective. The idea that you can view someone’s pain objectively is a myth. When you are having an argument with your spouse, you may feel that you are being rational and objective, because you are looking at the argument without any emotion. You are just trying to unpack the facts - this happened, that happened, that’s why you shouldn’t feel this way, etc.


But even an unemotional, rational response to an argument is subjected to your point of view. You react in a certain way because you have subjected your partner’s pain to your own paradigm. If it feels to you as if your partner is acting irrationally, it is also because you are subjecting their pain to your own point of view. Ironically, this is actually an irrational way to deal with conflict because it is just about your own point of view.


In order to fully understand your partner and deal with conflict, you have to set aside your paradigm and subject your point of view to that of your partner. In this way, you can feel their pain and their frustration the way that they do, and feel empathy. This is the only way to rationally deal with conflict and learn from it.


I want to encourage you to subject your point of view to that of your partner. I hope you are brave enough to try because once you understand this, you will also understand how to help your partner to see your point of view.

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