Does our suffering make us strong?

Green leaves against a blue background
Shedding leaves and growing anew is a cycle of life. Drawing by me.

As I write this, the lush green trees are swaying in the wind, their bright green leaves looking luminous. Hard to believe that they had shed all their leaves and looked bare just a few months ago.

This cycle of shedding who we are and the growing anew reminds me of a recent conversation with a friend. We were discussing the value of suffering in life. And she said that suffering makes us resilient.

I wondered if this suffering = strength has been true in my life.

And the short answer is - It depends.

I have found that pain & discomfort is inevitable in life. But it matters what I do with the pain. If I deny or resist or avoid it, it stays unprocessed. And that translates to a lot of stress, overwhelm, and sickness in my body and mind, instead of strength.

On the other hand, if I accept what I am going through and process and work through it with help, as needed, then pain and suffering can transform to resilience, strength, softness, and spaciousness.

And true strength lies in kindness, love, learning, joy, and forgiveness, instead of suffering.

How I avoided or denied discomfort

For about first 30ish years of my life, I avoided feeling or accepting discomfort and suffering of all sorts - physical, mental and especially emotional. I wanted to have a calm and serene mind, so I was focused on what I wanted to do and largely ignored other things.

And it worked very well, till it didn't. I was calm & strong outwardly but the calm and the strength felt brittle. And I always had this underlying fear of falling apart under a big challenge.

And then in my 30s, discomfort started to show up in my life uninvited in various forms - mental, physical, emotional, spiritual. I could not ignore it anymore. Here were some of the major challenges:

  • The constant pelvic pain after a dramatic car accident, the pain and anxiety resulting from irritable bowel syndrome, and worsening symptoms of Poly Cystic Ovaries.
  • My husband & I being confronted with relationship challenges which we couldn't hide from anymore.
  • The discomfort of my heart asking me to change my career and find my next purpose-aligned career.

Moving from resentment to learning and flourishing

In the beginning, I hated all these crisis and challenges and felt overwhelmed and resentful. Why me? Why couldn't I just have a "normal" life? Whatever normal means.

And yet today I am grateful for all of these crisis, because they showed me what I needed to learn. And life is richer and continues to be beautiful because of what I learned over these times.

If I deny or avoid suffering or pain, it stays unprocessed ... resulting in a lot of stress, overwhelm, and sickness in my body and mind...if I accept what I am going through ... and work through it with help, as needed, then pain and suffering can transform to resilience, strength, softness, and spaciousness.

I am super grateful to all the people who helped me and continue to help me on this journey - (physical) therapists, coaches, mentors, support group members, family, and friends.

Here are some of the lifelong changes that came out of these moments of crisis:

  • After the accident I couldn't sit or stand for even 30 minutes without pain. This period taught me the importance of good physical health and relaxation in life. And it also showed me that I was totally replaceable at work :D. And I started to invest in my physical health through therapy, exercise classes, etc. and continue to this day. Recently, I finished a 2-day hike of 42 kms. while carrying 6-7 kgs!
  • During our relationship crisis, we worked with a couples' therapist. And we learned how to be emotionally intimate in a relationship and how to communicate better in difficult times, leading to a more connected and joyful relationship.
  • My longing for a new career took me on the path of being an entrepreneur. I tried different ideas, studied, worked with coaches, and learned a gazillion new things, including what resilience is made of :).
  • Last but not the least, all these challenges also brought me in touch with healing through the mind-body connection and embodiment coaching.

And now I am an embodiment coach myself where I help others lean into the bouquet of joy and discomfort within their bodies and minds, help them process stress, and uncover profound insights within.

In summary

During moments of discomfort and/or suffering, I still get caught up in resentment and fighting with reality :D. But now I have a support system in place to remind me to come back to myself and gently lean into the discomfort, feel it with kindness, and let it pass through me. Leaving behind wisdom and spaciousness.

Want to see if embodiment life and career coaching can help you? Schedule a call here: