Our Power Lies In How We Choose to Respond to Our Pain

“The strongest hearts have the most scars.” ~Unknown 

Maybe it’s true, that the strongest hearts have the most scars.

And maybe the pain and the discomfort we experience in life can serve as a great teacher, if we choose to see it that way.

Everyone has bumps, bruises, and pains in life, right?

Things happen that are outside our control, and it’s up to each one of us to decide how these experiences shape us.

There are those who endure incredible trauma and pain and choose to use those experiences to see life differently. They learn from it, grow, and move on.

And there are also those that go through horrible pain and don’t have strong hearts. They have broken hearts that just stay broken.

What’s the key difference between those who are able to find meaning from their hardships and move on and those who don’t?

This difference is the very key that took my life from one big red-hot-mess to what I would define as true success—a life of freedom, happiness, and meaning, soulfully driven and led by spirit.

But it didn’t start that way.

I didn’t choose to be adopted.

I didn’t choose to have a table fall on my head when I was five, causing a severe head injury and coma, which would require a decade full of EEG’s and anti-seizure meds.

I didn’t plan an ugly divorce. I didn’t plan on meeting the love of my life at a wacky spiritual retreat in Brazil and then, in saying yes to that love, losing friends, family, and my home in the process.

I didn’t choose a lot of the bumps, bruises, and scars that visibly covered my body and secretly covered my heart.

The first, most significant scar probably started when I was adopted.

I was the product of a teen pregnancy—loveless and unplanned. My birth mother was sent away from her small hometown to give birth to me in a strange city, alone and, I am sure, quite freaked out. I don’t imagine it was the idyllic birth experience most of us moms would want to have.

Having two incredible daughters that are pretty much pieces of my heart walking around on this earth, I know well what it means to be a mother. I know what it means to carry, grow, nurture, and raise a human in this world. I know what it means to be willing to do anything for your children.

I also know what it means to not feel connected to a mother.

I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider—unwanted, unseen, and unheard.

And regardless of how amazing my adoptive parents were (and still are), I still felt like the oddball, and not a real part of the family.

I felt like a mistake.

I grew up feeling like there must have been something wrong with me since my own mother gave me up for adoption.

I must have been broken. I must have been a freak, so I had to do everything humanly possible to not let them see the truth—that I was not worthy of love because I was not worthy of being kept.

So I carried that scar with me, ready to sabotage relationships due to a fear of abandonment.

Ready to sabotage success due to a fear of not being good enough, for anything.

I didn’t realize, at that moment, that I was choosing a pattern of thinking and feeling that was keeping me stuck.  

No one was forcing me to feel unworthy and to think negative thoughts about myself. I was choosing my pain. I was perpetuating the story rather than seeing my pain as a teacher, learning from it, and finding meaning in it.

It wasn’t until I made a conscious choice to address my pain, get help, and learn to see my struggles in a different light that things shifted dramatically for me.

And this didn't happen overnight.

It was a gradual process of awakening that began with seeing a qualified therapist in my late teens.

Because I had a deep desire to understand more about human behavior and motivation, I majored in psychology and sociology. After that, I became a voracious student of personal growth and spiritual work, digesting all I could in the form of books, courses, and retreats.

I started noticing that I was relating to my past experiences differently.

I was telling a new story that embodied what I had learned from these various modalities.

It wasn't my fault that I was given up for adoption, nor did it mean I was unworthy. And I wasn't a horrible, ugly person because of some of the choices I had made—I was human.

Those painful experiences didn’t define my life in a negative sense any longer. The old story of hurt, blame, and resentment was replaced with a new story of healing, awareness, and inner strength.

In my opinion, this is one of the key reasons people either learn, grow, and move on or they stay stuck in victim mode and keep hurting. They choose to stay stuck in the painful place by holding on to the disempowering story that causes them to suffer. They keep playing the tape of the hurt rather than the tape of the healing.

To move on, transcend, and grow from any painful experience requires courage, willingness, and the belief that you can choose to see your past differently—that you can feel differently about it and free yourself from the chains of pain.

But it can’t change without that belief. You need to believe it’s possible in order to choose a different way of reacting.

That is ground zero.

Some will argue that it isn’t that simple—that there would be less misery and more joy on our planet if it were that easy to move on from our emotional pains.

And I would respond by saying that while it may be a simple idea, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

It’s simple to understand that you can choose to see and think differently about something, which will then change how you feel about it.

The hard part comes in choosing to think and react in new ways, and choosing to get help if you need it. This requires work, strength, support, compassion, and sometimes just time.

It’s not a quick fix and it’s not always a straight line to get from hurt to healed.

But it’s the very thing that turned my life from mess to miracles, and the very thing I have seen create massive shifts in others lives as well—the power of choice.

We have to choose to feel and acknowledge our pain so that we can heal from it; to commit to therapy or support groups so that we can understand our pain; and to know that it’s possible to turn any pain, and challenge, into our greatest teacher.

When we are able to turn our messes into miracles, our pain into purpose, we win.

And I get it; when we are in the middle of our suffering, we aren’t able to see the gift in it because pain can consume us. In the moment, no one is going to see the positive side of being hurt, abused, or abandoned. At that point, it’s more about survival.

But what we do after we experience pain is our choice and our point of power.

While we may not be able to choose all the things that happen to us in life, we do get to choose how to react to those things. We get to choose what it means to us.  

I think about the Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist Victor Frankl, who survived the holocaust and was able to find meaning in that terrible experience.

His story, like so many others who have survived terrible tragedy, always leaves me in awe of the strength of the human spirit and heart.

He was able to see, even in his unimaginable situation, that he could still choose hope and love. Even though his wife had been killed, he chose to remember her love and let that be his guiding light and strength.

Although they had taken everything else from him, they couldn't take the most profound and precious of all human freedoms—the ability to choose his own way. The ability to choose love over hate and hope over despair.

I stop and remember this when I think my life is hard or when I feel strongly challenged by something. If Victor Frankl could choose meaning over misery in a situation as dire as the holocaust, then anything is possible. Any hurt is possible to heal.

As Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”

When you look at your hardships and challenges as just another personal test and know that what’s on the others side of that is a more expansive way to see life, it’s a win. But when you see life’s bumps as one giant bummer and nothing but that, it’s a loss.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve experienced pain like Victor Frankl or pain from a broken heart, health diagnosis, job loss, or whatever. Pain is pain, and it’s all subjective. One person’s pain isn’t greater than another’s. We all feel, we all hurt, and ultimately, we all have a choice in how we deal with it.

We move through our pain because we must. We do it because the alternative is a slow death sentence.

We have a choice. Our true power lies in our ability to choose how to react to what happens to us. And then to keep choosing an attitude like Victor Frankl’s, until it becomes a habit of empowerment and what pained you no longer does.

Choose to see light in the darkness, beauty in the ugliness, and love no matter what. That is the path that will you lead you to happiness and healing, and the path to a strong, resilient heart.

About Carrie Dale

Carrie Dale is the author of The 2 Choices, a wildly passionate writer and lifestyle coach to people ready to create energetically rich and soulful lives. Her message is rooted in the power of choice and living life outside the box.  Carrie’s intention is to inspire others to create lives they love—guilt and struggle free.

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  • Tracy Carpenter

    HI Carrie,
    I am a 64 year old psych nurse, hospice nurse, and LPC. I have been a fan of “Man’s Search for Meaning” a long, long time, and I really loved reading that you are too! That is absolutely true- we have that last freedom always, to choose our response. If not joy, even the dying can have peace with that philosophy. Thanks for sharing.

  • Carla

    TinyBuddha has been an incredible source of healing help to me over a spontaneous and not yet finished retreat period in my life, and this article may be the best yet (as each one is, as at stage 70 my healing continues (it’s never too late!))–because I’m ready to hear and receive it. Thank you so much.

  • Jason

    Carrie, I have spent the last 7 years working through extreme pain that began due to events that occurred in my life a decade before that. I suffered for a decade before I decided it was time to begin healing and reclaim my life. This year, 2017, I realized that the pain is gone and I am in a very happy state ever day.

    Every word you write here is spot on. You could not have described the healing process more accurately!

    I especially liked this, “To move on, transcend, and grow from any painful experience requires courage, willingness, and the belief that you can choose to see your past differently—that you can feel differently about it and free yourself from the chains of pain.”

    You are exactly right, I couldn’t have started 7 years ago without this.

  • Jason, I am so happy for you! It’s such a relief to heal from those things and then move on to feeling happy and connected in our lives. It does take a ton of courage. Congrats to you and thank you so much for your kind words.

  • You are so welcome Carla! I am in love with Tiny Buddha. It’s such a great community and incredible source for healing, insight and awareness . . . at any age! After all, we are all ageless anyway, right?

  • You are most welcome Tracy! It makes me so happy to hear that people relate with this and agree that we can choose our response, no matter what’s going on around us. It is quite liberating, really. Enjoy your day!

  • Tom Helfrich Stone

    Thank you for the most concise description of how it feels to be both a parent and an adoptee. Absolutely spot-on nailed it.

  • Reji Renee Smith

    Wow!!!! This was like reading an entry to my own diary. Born to a teen mother, adopted by such loving parents. Multiple hip surgeries as a small child and now a divorce survivor. You truly spoke to my soul.( I looked around twice to make sure you hadn’t been behind me my whole life lol) I myself have had to come to terms with such early life abandonment. I remember during a healing session I had with myself about a year ago, I allowed myself to sit in the rejection I felt as an infant and the pain of rejection I have secretly carried around for so many years. During that session, I allowed myself to finally realize that every wonderful thing I have has come from some type of rejection. My birth mother “rejected me” because of her circumstance not because of anything I did. The rejection was not a reflection of my worth, but simply a path for me to follow on. Rejection can feel so painful but as you have said we have a choice on how we react. I am choosing to see the beauty in every rejection.

    Thank you for reminding me of that this morning, I really needed it.

    <3 rej

  • Hi Carrie,

    “When you look at your hardships and challenges as just another personal test and know that what’s on the others side of that is a more expansive way to see life, it’s a win. But when you see life’s bumps as one giant bummer and nothing but that, it’s a loss.”

    And that’s it, isn’t it? They key to life. Life is as you see it. It is a reflection of who you are and they way that you choose to look at it. See it as a bottomless pit of despair, and it will treat you as though you are living in one. See it as a never-ending blue sky filled with possibilities and not surprisingly, that’s what you get.

    Beautiful article.

  • Thomas

    Nice one 🙂

  • Thank you Thomas! : )

  • “See it as a never-ending blue sky filled with possibilities and not surprisingly, that’s what you get.” Spot on! Thanks so much Joel!

  • So glad you enjoyed this Reji and that you’ve been able to find meaning and beauty in your experiences. We are kindred souls! xo

  • Thanks Tom! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Ale Mi

    “That is the path that will you lead you to happiness and healing, and the path to a strong, resilient heart”
    I love this suggestion for us.I hope that we all can find the happiness in the dark and the joy in the not perfect moment. We could see anything good in every moment. Thanks to gratitude!
    Thank you Carrie.

  • You are welcome Ale! Thanks for taking the time to read it!