Three Choice Points

by | Apr 18, 2023 | Personal Growth

How do you respond to suffering – yours and mine?

It seems like a simple question, but our answers to this question can reveal profound truths about both how we were conditioned and socialized (what happened to us), and also who we are trying to become (what’s emerging through us).

At some point on our journey towards more compassion, healing, learning and growth, we inevitably encounter the problem of pain and suffering.  

What are we meant to do with the pain we encounter in our lives? 

Here are three choice points that I use on my own roadmap:  

  1. Presence: Wake Up or Stay Asleep?  
Our first choice involves our mindset and intention.  
  • Am I willing to become present to the painful events of my life?  
  • Is my primary intention to wake up or stay asleep?
  • Do I want to become more conscious, or am I comfortable being checked-out, defended against and numbed-out from my inner world?
We can reach for presence, healing, growth and learning. Here, we lean in and deepen our insights, ask more questions, make connections between our past, present and future, and enrich our understanding and connectedness with ourselves and others. We allow the pain and suffering of our lives to wake us up, to have our attention.  


Alternatively, we can choose to shy away and instead just skim the surface of life.  We take things at face value, leave things alone, avoid deeper conversations and try to make do with things as they are. We avoid the pain: we walk around it, we deny it, we minimize it and dismiss it.  We look the other way. We “stay positive.” We turn away from it.  


  1. Compassion: Love It or Judge It?
Our second choice involves our attitude towards those moments of awareness.

When we suddenly have that moment of awareness, or insight – do we judge ourselves and others, or soften into compassion for ourselves and others?

Do we use suffering to enrich our understanding and connectedness with other humans, or do we defend against it in judgmental ways by categorizing, dismissing or diagnosing ourselves and others?
Every moment of awareness is an opportunity to be in a deeper, more intimate relationship with ourselves and others.  We can seek out our shared humanity and connectedness.  We can greet pain and suffering with tenderness, kind eyes and love. We can stay in loving relationship with it.
Alternatively, we can recoil from these moments of awareness and judge them, often in the name of superiority or safety. Instead of just feeling it, we try to intellectualize our pain by judging ourselves and others. We distance ourselves from pain and suffering with disdain, contempt, denial and diagnoses.
  1. Agency: Heal it (inside) or spread it (outside)?
Our third choice involves what we actually then do with our pain and suffering:

Do we heal it and transform it, or do we perpetuate it and spread it?

This is the difference between those childhood abuse survivors who say, “I will never do to others what was done to me – it stops with me,” or “I never want you to go through what I went through,” and spends a lifetime healing generational trauma and pain, starting with themselves, versus those abuse survivor who say, “I survived it and turned out fine, so you can go through it too,” or, “It was good enough for me, so it can be good enough for you, too.”

Either suffering stops with us as we contain it, and transform what is inside of ourselves, or we justify and feel entitled to spreading more pain and suffering.  We often do this either in a misguided attempt at getting empathy from others (“Now you know how I feel”) or because we believe that they “deserve” to suffer so that they can learn (which never works … but that’s a post for another day.)

Want some practical steps to help you be more loving and less judgmental?

You may want to watch:

And, here are some suggestions on how to heal the trauma instead of spreading it:

Have a thought?  I’d love to know.  Please comment below.


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