Neurosis is the Avoidance of Legitimate Suffering

A quote I think about a lot in my own life is this one from Carl Jung:

"Neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering."

Life is painful and when I notice something neurotic about my behavior it's often because I'm avoiding something painful.

Borrowing from Jung I often tell my students, "One of the secrets of mental health is learning how to suffer well."

Because what we'd like to do is avoid all suffering and pain. We'd like to avoid the shame of the confession, the entry into rehab or therapy, the request for help. Avoid the grief of loss. Avoid the effects of consequences that are rightly coming our way. Avoid the sting of disappointment in the face of failure. Avoid the hurt in a faltering relationship.

So to avoid the pain we develop neurotic coping mechanisms. We self-medicate. We blame. We distract ourselves. We avoid. We pretend.

We avoid legitimate suffering by burying it under neurotic symptoms. Rather than suffering directly we suffer indirectly through symptoms of neurotic avoidance.

So I tell my students:

"Life is going to hurt at times. And when it begins to hurt don't panic.

Because if you panic and try to avoid the hurt you will often bring more pain into your life than the actual hurt. Don't over-correct in your panic to avoid the pain or you'll drive off the road and crash.

Don't run away from, avoid, deny, repress, mask or medicate your hurt. Just let it hurt.

Let the hurt wash over you like a wave and let it pass.

Because if you fight it, if you try to avoid the hurt, you'll stop living.

You'll stop being fully present in the moment, always insulating and protectively distancing yourself.

That, or you'll become frozen in time by hurt you are unwilling to face or feel.

You'll start becoming a bundle of neurotic symptoms used to protect yourself from the pain and risk of living.

So learn, my dear students, learn to suffer well."

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