Stop Telling People “You Create Your Own Suffering”
It’s unhelpful, inaccurate, and obscures the practice of learning to suffer less
When you’re suffering, one of the most painful, invalidating things someone can say to you is, “You create your own suffering.”
Not only is this wildly unhelpful when you’re hurting and in need of reprieve, but it adds insult to injury: it invalidates your experience of reality, and worse than that, it implies you’re at fault for pain you definitely did not cause.
Humans have a unique, somewhat weird way of developing. When we’re born, our brains are not fully developed — in fact, they’re less than 30% of their fully-developed adult size. Compared to other animals, humans are born helpless, completely dependent on our caregivers for survival. We need nurturance from others not only to survive, but to organize and develop our minds. Our experience of the world requires care and attunement from others in order to develop optimally.
Being invalidated — or, having another person discount, negate or refuse the reality of our internal emotional experience — feels to us like an existential threat, because growing up, it was. If those around us could not see us, feel us, understand us and help us grow healthily into maturity, this quite literally put our survival and development in jeopardy.
When we’re in pain, being told that we are, in fact, causing our own pain not only triggers this feeling of existential threat, it is simply not accurate. If a person who is suffering could just snap their fingers and remove all pain from their lives, of course they would. Consciously, the pain we experience is not of our own creation. Our conscious selves — the only selves we have the ability to regulate and make aware decisions for — are not creating this suffering.
Our less-than-conscious patterns are also not of our own making. These are learned patterns, instilled in us through our socialization, our experiences and our early life relationships with caregivers. As children, we had very little control over our environment in general, and even less control over what experiences from that environment shaped our minds in what ways.