The spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron talks a lot about one of the Noble Truths of
Buddhism, that people experience suffering and dissatisfaction with what is.
This is a given in life, you will not be perfectly pleased at all times. In
fact, there will be times when you are suffering. But she goes on, “only in the
West is this articulated as something
wrong with me”.
This insidious bit of added cruelty seems based in that
seductive myth that if we do everything right, we will always be happy and our
lives will be perfect. Perhaps no other culture has been as in thrall to this
myth as our modern American culture. We cannot get away from it. Everywhere see
ads, TV shows, crafted celebrity personas, Facebook posts, telling us that
other people achieve this constant happiness and satisfaction. Most recently with
the twist implying that only “losers” find themselves struggling. And so we
feel the normal suffering or disappointments of life, but turn them into
When we struggle, we turn to self-recrimination hoping for
an answer to avoid future struggles. We craft deeply developed stories about
how we are lacking, different from other people, clearly not trying hard
enough. Because honestly it feels good to believe you can somehow avoid the
inevitable disappointments. But that belief turns on us and feels isolating and
damning when we can’t. What is wrong with
me? What did I do to deserve this
And this pattern can go deeper into more painful shaming. In
therapy I see the hurt self blame can cause as clients get pulled into the
impossible puzzle of figuring out what they did wrong that made them deserve to
be neglected, abused, not loved in the way they needed. The truth - that there
is no good reason, that they were not the cause - is relieving for a moment.
But it is also scary because it reminds us that much of life is out of our control.
That there is unfairness and suffering. Sometimes no matter what we do.
Of course our behavior matters. Of course we can do plenty
of things to make our lives better, to make ourselves better. We don’t need to
give up wanting or trying. But we simply cannot make it all ok all the time. We
will experience heartbreak, and loss, and many, many small and less small ways
in which our life falls short of what we thought it would be. And this doesn’t
make us bad or broken. It makes us human.
And the part that makes me sad is that if only we spent our
time loving ourselves through the inevitable rather than berating ourselves
through it, the pain would pass much quicker. And we would have more time for
enjoying the beauty of life and the gorgeous fascinating individual reflections
of human imperfection all around us. Remember, you are okay, just as you are, even when times are hard.