One of the most frustrating and painful things to do is to watch someone we love suffer, and to not be able to do anything about it. We all want our loved ones to be happy, we want to offer them help, solutions, a hand when we see them in pain. But some times, with some people, no matter what we do they seem to prefer to continue in their pain, they choose to suffer. Why?
There are many reasons why people choose to suffer, but they usually boil down to a couple of main belief systems that they learned during their childhood and that they are still strongly attached to. Their suffering supports these belief system, and in fact they would rather suffer to keep believing them, than let go. Let’s see what some of these beliefs systems are.
I am a hero or I am strong
When we grow up in a difficult environment, where our boundaries are often violated, we were continuously subjected to pain and we are given unreasonable demands and requests on a regular basis, we might have formed this belief system as a coping mechanism. By believing that we are 'tough' and 'strong' or a 'hero' we justify the maltreatment we were going through while surviving our childhood. While this belief system can be useful in surviving a difficult childhood environment, it can be extremely detrimental once we grow up. As humans we are in fact vulnerable and we need help from other people, we need to depend on others. Holding the belief that we must be tough all the time or that we are heroic, will not allow us to put ourselves in a vulnerable position, to ask for help and to truly connect with others.
I can only count on myself or I cannot trust others
This belief system usually arises in a family situation where our needs, wants and desires were not catered for or cared for by your caregivers, in fact they were continuously neglected. We learned that we cannot count on the people around us to cater for us, or worse that we can trust no-one with our best interest, and we became extremely self-reliant. While this survival mechanism protects us during childhood, again it is very damaging in adult life, as it keeps us from cultivating real relationships, that are based on giving and receiving, vulnerability and trust.
I am a good person and thus I must sacrifice myself
This belief system usually is born in families where our interests, needs, wants were not taken into consideration, and we were forced to sacrifice them for those of others (usually our parents), least we’d be punished with shame, and lack of love. In order to keep getting some love we had to be a ‘good’ person and sacrifice ourselves. This belief system again is a survival mechanism in childhood that becomes extremely damaging in adulthood as we continue the same pattern of self-abuse.
Powerlessness - I cannot do anything about it
When we were growing up in circumstances where we had no power to change painful situations - because we were not given a choice by our care givers - we might have internalised the idea that suffering is unavoidable and that we can do nothing to change it. This is a very dangerous belief system because it can keep us locked even in adulthood in potentially dangerous and damaging situations where access to change is in fact possible.
I summarized above some of the main belief systems that keep people suffering in adult life. In order to let go of such belief system, the best we can do for a loved one who is attached to one of them is to give them understanding and compassion and possibly an example that shows the opposite of their belief. Ultimately it is only their choice however to let it go or not, and it is not our responsibility to try to save them. In fact if we feel the urge to save them we need to ask ourselves what motivation is behind that, for perhaps it is some belief system that we are attached to ourselves, such as the one of the saviour. In this case we need to work on our belief systems.