Moving towards unknown and uncomfortable places.
Remember when your mother told you. “Honey, you can’t play with fire and expect not to get burned?”
Sure, it’s true, you play with fire and you get burned.
Yet, after years of being a therapist and my own personal burn experiences; moving towards the pain can bring us to some of the sweetest moments.
Nothing proves this point quite like an interaction I had with my father at 5-years-old. There he stood, a strong, stern, Middle Eastern man, watching over the shish kabob grill and cooking each skewer of lamb to perfection. Some of my fondest memories of my father (that complicated and quite honestly, difficult man) were on sweltering Sunday afternoons standing near the pool, listening to Frank Sinatra on a boombox with a gin and tonic in one hand and tongs in the other. If we were really lucky he would have a stogie hanging out of his mouth. When that wasn’t happening he was ready to impart wisdom to anyone in his general vicinity. That particular day it was his 5-year-old daughter.
Now it might be helpful to tell you that my father was 58-years-old when I was born. I will let you do the math on how old he was when we had this particular interaction. Even from my youngest moments we struggled to understand each other but I guess that should be no surprise. The man had lived through his family’s flight from Iran during the rule of the Ottoman Empire, The Great Depression and World War II.
In short, he had experienced a lot.
So when his daughter strolled up to the grill and with playfulness and pure curiosity asked, “Daddy, what does fire feel like?”
Of course, Daddy said, “Why don’t you stick your hand in and find out?”
And what do you think this little girl did?
She did a beautiful thing. She unknowingly and with complete trust stuck her soft, little hand in the fire and learned what fire felt like. She moved towards the fire…she moved towards the pain. At the time unknowingly, but all the same, she did it. And this lesson has been one I have been learning how to embrace ever since.
Joe Yonan got in big trouble that day when Mama found out what he had encouraged his little girl to do. To this day, that story is told around our family table with smiles and it always has been a good lesson learned for me.
So what’s the point, you may be asking? Great question!
In all my years working with coaching and therapy clients I have never once heard a client tell me.
“Darn it Sarah! Why did you help me go to that pain point in my story?”
Or “Geez Sarah, that was so hard, I wish I hadn’t done it.”
More likely what they say is, “Gosh, I didn’t know how helpful talking about that would be.”
Or “Thank you for helping me get to the other side of that difficult feeling, situation, or experience.”
Moving towards our pain isn’t easy. In fact, it sometimes feels nearly impossible. It is instinctual to flee pain unless we feel like we have a fighting chance to overcome it. The concept of fight or flight shows us that. It doesn’t come naturally to head in the direction of something that is uncomfortable or hurts, but it is necessary for growth. In this place of difficulty we learn to be resilient and we learn to process and overcome. More than that, we often need someone who can show us the way. Someone to take our hand as we step closer to the fire. It’s scary when we start to feel the sweat bead on our skin as we are dangerously close to getting burned. I’d venture to say, with the right kind of guidance and support, the burn doesn’t have to be a third degree burn. Maybe it doesn’t have to burn at all, maybe more of a singe. I have found when I moved in the direction of the pain I actually find relief.
The best tool for moving towards the pain is finding the right person to walk you through it. We all struggle with things we desperately want to avoid. Change pushes us to unknown and uncomfortable new places. Rather than getting stuck in the fear of moving forward or trying to navigate it alone. Find support and balance through expert guidance.