Is Pain Necessary for Growth and Development?

a healthy growing plant
Growth happens naturally anyway.

Someone Asked a Great Question Recently

They were considering the idea that maybe pain is necessary for growth and development. And they asked if it’s not possible to grow and develop when balanced and happy.

It’s so interesting how the logic can get turned around. When I’m doing The Work, and I’m dealing with a painful situation, it’s a turnaround to see that even with so much emotional pain, I’m still learning and growing a lot. This can be a way of turning a negative into a positive. And it’s helpful.

But It’s Another Thing to Make Pain the Cause of My Growth

The mind sometimes makes a leap and assumes that if growth happens when I experience pain, then pain is the cause of growth. And then it would follow that if I really want to grow, I should seek out challenges that are painful.

This is not true in my experience.

For me, it is possible to have pain with no growth at all, just wallowing in pain. And it is equally possible to have growth with no pain at all. Pain and growth, while sometimes found together, are really two separate things.

In my experience, emotional pain is only the result of believing stressful thoughts. Luckily with The Work, I can question stressful thoughts, and come out of the pain quicker, so that I can get on with the non-painful parts of my growth. 

How Do You Grow and Develop When You’re Happy?

For me, there is nothing I can do about growth. It just happens. I grow with pain, and I grow without pain. 

I don’t seek out pain, because pain is not the source of my growth. Awareness is the source of my growth. And awareness just grows on its own naturally with so many life-supporting activities. 

When pain comes, I simply bring whatever awareness I have to the pain situation. That’s what The Work does. Painful places are the places where I currently have the least amount of awareness. So when I bring awareness to them, I see a dramatic change. 

It’s Like Adding Water to an Almost Dead Plant

If I add water to an almost dead plant, it makes a huge difference. 

It may seem like if I want that kind of growth, I should only focus on dying plants. But daily water to my healthy plants makes a difference too. I only notice the dramatic change with the unhealthy plants because of the contrast. 

As I keep developing more and more awareness in every part of my life, all my plants become healthier and healthier. There’s nothing I can do about it. Growth keeps happening. That’s why life has to keep getting better and better. It’s an irresistible force of evolution.

This Doesn’t Mean I Ignore Pain

Pain is just a sign that there’s a place where growth is especially needed right now. It’s an area that is calling out for my attention. Like the withered leaves of a dying plant. Of course, I will run over and attend to this area of need. 

When I do The Work, I look at what is stressing me. And I attend to that area. That’s how I revive dying parts of myself. 

But it doesn’t mean that I should go do something to cause pain to myself and then use The Work to fix it. That would be like purposely withholding water from a plant until it is struggling, and then rushing in to “save” it with some water. That’s actually abusive.

But What About Challenging Myself?

There is something good about challenging myself, stepping out of my comfort zone. But there is a difference between pushing myself to the point of pain, and gently challenging myself. One feels kind, the other feels cruel. 

So there are no absolutes. I don’t seek out pain in order to grow, but I also don’t avoid challenges either. And if I just live my life, the challenges will present themselves without much doing. When I see them, I step into them and do my work. 

I just don’t like to use the idea of challenging myself to the point self-denial or self-abuse. 

Join Us for The Work 101 in April

This question, and many more, came up in The Work 101, my online course for deepening The Work and starting to culture a habit of doing it regularly. If you would like to take advantage of this program to deepen your own work, I’d love to have you join us.

The next 9-week version of the course starts Apr 27. Learn more and register for The Work 101 here.

Have a great week

“People who do The Work stop fearing pain. They relax into it. They watch it come and go, and they see that it always comes and goes at the perfect moment.” Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy.

Further reading: The Work Stops Working When You Focus on Outcome