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“It’s not that bad” and other lies we tell ourselves

I want to say a few words about toleration. About putting up with the aspects of your life that “aren’t that bad”.

“It’s not that bad” is how we stay stuck for years in situations that make us miserable.

“It’s not that bad” is a lie that we tell ourselves, usually because not telling the lie means facing a scarier truth.

“It’s not that bad” is the lie I’ve told myself for years about my chronic back pain.

And you know what? On the one hand, I’m so right. My pain is really not that bad.

Compared to all of the people out there suffering from truly debilitating chronic pain, my wimpy little back pain is barely a blip on the record. It really is not that bad.

But the thing is that when you play in the Suffering Olympics, no one wins — why would you want to when the prize is nothing less than abject misery?

And yet the ego longs to play. The ego longs to be the best at everything — including being the best at suffering.

For years I’ve used this as an excuse. I’ve told myself this lie that my pain doesn’t deserve my attention because “it’s not that bad”.

It’s like saying that poverty in America doesn’t deserve our attention because “it’s not that bad” compared to poverty in Africa. It’s an equation that really just doesn’t compute — surely both are tragedies in their own right?

The same is true of our personal suffering. All suffering deserves our attention, from the smallest ache to the fiercest agony — our suffering deserves our attention, our compassion, our tender care.

This is what I’ve learned about suffering.

Tolerating our suffering doesn’t make us martyrs. It doesn’t make us kinder, more loving, and more generous people.

Toleration isn’t adequate to transmute pain into love.

To enact such a feat, an act far more courageous than toleration is required — an act of acceptance, an act of surrender is required.

Putting up with the places where we chafe against the edges of our life doesn’t make us any kinder or more noble than our fellow man.

Because the real truth is that even if “it’s not that bad” — it’s also not that good either.

When we’re willing to suffer “not that bad”, we deny ourselves “good”, and we shut down our ability to witness our suffering compassionately.

Putting up with our dissatisfactions almost always does exactly the opposite — it makes us discontented, more easy to anger, less able to extend compassion to others, and more apt to wallow in our righteousness.

When we’re wallowing in our suffering we can’t be of service to those who need us.

Which is the real reason why we have to look at the places where we’re tolerating — the areas of our lives that don’t suit us. We have to look at the aches and the pains and the discontents and the frustrations — because only when we do this can we move into a kinder, more beautiful, and more generous life.

The kind of life we always knew deep in our hearts we were capable of.

The kind of life we’ve yearned for.

The kind of life we thought we’d never be lucky enough to have.

The kind of life that is available to each and every one of us when we’re willing to look our discontents square in the face and fight our way through to the something more we’ve always dreamed of.

Because healing begins when we dare to tell ourselves the brutally honest truth.

All of which is a rather long and dramatic way of saying that I’ve gone ahead and signed myself up for some physical therapy and have been taking a deep dive into mind-body coaching techniques because I’m done tolerating being in pain all the time — even when it really is “not that bad”.

What kind of life do you yearn for? Where in your life are you done tolerating a situation that causes discontent? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! And if you’d like to take this conversation deeper, I invite you to work with me.