Have You Been Making Yourself Suffer?


Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Relationships, Thought | Posted on 12-22-2015

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[Jill’s Note: If you prefer to listen rather than read, please scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.]

ArguingI recently read a post in a Facebook group from a woman (let’s call her Jane) who was asking what people thought of the following:

Someone in her life (according to Jane): “Broke all her values, hurt her personally and deeply, made her cry and suffer and lose sleep for months.” Eventually Jane came to terms with the situation, but out of the blue the person invited her over for Christmas as if nothing had happened. She was confused and wondered what to do.

All of the responses were the opposite of what I would have said, because…

Most people still view the world from an outside-in perspective.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’re supposed to see the world that way. It’s just that once you’ve seen that your entire experience comes from within you, you can never look at life the same way.

You may find this a little off the wall. You may even get mad at me for saying it because it puts the way you feel squarely on you. But I implore you to look at it with an open mind. If you do, you may hear something that changes your experience of life in miraculous ways!

To me, what happened to Jane is obvious. While it looked, felt and seemed to Jane like her friend made her feel horrible, that’s not what happened. It’s impossible for someone or something to make anybody feel a certain way. For real.

The only thing that made Jane suffer was her own thoughts.

There I said it.

The way Jane responded seemed to her to be the only way to react. She innocently took what her friend said or did and created a story about it in her own head.

Because that’s what we do. All of us.

In order to experience anything, it has to come from what’s going on in our thoughts. Jane decided/determined that her friend was inappropriate and hurtful based on all she knew to be true and real for her thus far in her life. And she held onto it (her thoughts about the situation) as if it were an absolute truth.

But it wasn’t.

I have no idea what was done or said to Jane, but it doesn’t matter. Her friend may have been joking, or may have purposely tried to be an ass. The fact is there is no one way (or truth) that defines the situation. Even if 99 out of 100 people would have reacted similarly to Jane, that reaction is still not the absolute truth. If only one person in the entire world reacted differently then it cannot be the situation or other person causing Jane’s suffering.

We all have our own unique beliefs, experiences and rules for what’s right and wrong, and we filter our experiences through this one of a kind life-lense. Jane’s suffering came from her filtered interpretation of what happened, and not from her friend or the event itself.

From what we know of her story, her friend may not have even known anything happened between them. Jane being invited for Christmas out of the blue suggests that in the friend’s mind their relationship may have been the same as it had ever been. It’s possible this friend harbored no ill will towards Jane.

She created her own suffering.

As we all do.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the other person didn’t say or do something to Jane. The physical facts of the situation were what they were. But if you look at it closely and unbiasedly, you can see how Jane’s interpretation came 100% from her own thoughts.

While seeing and understanding this is freeing for many, it’s a hard pill to swallow for others. The idea that we create our own suffering is often a huge blow to our ego which prefers to put the blame elsewhere.

This is why I didn’t comment on Jane’s Facebook post. Telling her that her months of suffering came from her own thoughts probably wouldn’t have gone over very well. The comments she received told her she shouldn’t have to deal with insensitive people who made her suffer. Some told Jane to give her (ex)friend a piece of her mind so she would know how bad the situation made her feel. All fair comments in an outside-in world, and perhaps even good advice for Jane.

But technically they were incorrect.

Lest you think I’m a pompous ass who never blames others or situations for my own suffering–I assure you that isn’t the case. The pompous ass part might be true, but I definitely don’t always see my life situations with such clarity.

For instance, I’m currently in a situation where it’s nearly impossible for me to see how my own thoughts are causing my suffering. It’s quite ironic (and I do have to laugh) that in the midst of writing this post I’m surrounded by people who are “making me crazy.” Like seriously making me F’ing crazy! And it doesn’t matter how much I know that it’s coming from my own thinking, at this point, I don’t see it that way.

And yet…

Somehow knowing the truth intellectually–even without embodying it–helps. It keeps me from getting as annoyed as I might otherwise. Which in turn enables me to deal with it in a slightly better state of mind. (Slightly being the operative word!) The better my state of mind, the more equipped I am to handle things.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that those people who seem to cause me the most distress, are also my greatest learning opportunities. That said, if this is new to you, I don’t recommend trying to see it with your closest and toughest relationships. Instead, look at some of your easier ones and see if there’s even the remotest possibility that it’s true. If you can’t see it with those, look at other people’s relationships. Can you see where their own filtered thoughts are different than yours? Can you imagine how you may have reacted differently under the same circumstances?

The moment you catch a glimpse of this, the world will start to change before your very eyes!


P.S. I had an afterthought about this which I posted as a comment below. Feel free to respond as well!

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Jill is the author of Victim of Thought: Seeing Through the Illusion of Anxiety

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It occurred to me when hearing some comments on Facebook about this post that when we realize we’re creating our own suffering, it can also backfire. We humans so like to beat ourselves when we think “we know better.”

Thinking about our Thinking can be the curse of this understanding for sure!

That’s really all we’re doing when we beat ourselves up over not seeing it clearly enough or believing “we should know better, we KNOW it’s coming from us, not them.”

No. That’s not how it works. This understanding just/only/simply tells us how life works. That’s it! It’s just telling us that our experience of life is generated from within us via our thoughts.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not human and that we should now somehow be superhuman and not react or get upset by what others do. Humans get upset. Humans get sad. Humans get scared. Imagine how boring life would be if we didn’t. We need those “low” times as contrast to really appreciate the high times.

If you’re experiencing something that seems to be coming from someone else, and suddenly you intellectually remember that it’s got to be coming from you…what if you laughed instead? Just laughed and said, “While I know that person can’t make me feel a certain way, for right now in this moment, it sure as hell feels like they are doing just that. And I don’t care that it’s actually coming from my own thoughts. They did (whatever) and I’m happy to feel shitty about it at this point in time. – Jill

Hi Jill, a friend of mine recommend that I read this article. Is it ok if I ask you a couple of things? And also put in my two pennies worth.
Why in paragraph 2 why did you write in the brackets “according to Jane”?
Who else could it be according to if not the woman who wrote it in the first place?
I’m paragraph 3, it would have been helpful if you could have given us, who do not know what ‘outside-in- perspective’ means.
In paragraph 7 you state that “to you, what happened to Jane is obvious”. How can it be ‘obvious’ when in paragraph 2 you write (according to Jane). Which leaves one thinking from the beginning, that you doubt Janes story.
Then in paragraph 14 you very ‘boldly’ write “I have no idea what was said to Jane, but it doesn’t matter’. How can it not matter? Is that not the whole point of your article, isn’t that the reason you wrote this, because of what happened to Jane?
Or could it possibly have to do with the fact, according to you, in paragraph 24, your life is in a bit of a mess right now. You probably know why and what exactly is causing the mess, and can’t face the truth, because it’s too painful for you. I’m looking into your box, and what I see is a very hurt person, who is looking for any excuse or reason not face up to her own reality of what’s occuing right in front of her very own eyes. To me, all this Jane stuff, is just a front for you trying to get a grip on your own situation. Woman up, you can do it! Oh, one last thing, WHAT did they do to you Jill?

Hi Zedi,

Thank you for your comments and questions. I’m so glad you asked them, as it provides me with an opportunity to clarify the blog post. Please see my answers below, and feel free to post any additional comments or questions as they arise:

First, let me say that I did realize this post might ruffle a few feathers, and said that towards the beginning. I may be wrong, but it did seem to ruffle yours, and I’m sorry about that. Perhaps my clarification will help you see the situation (and my post) differently. If not, that’s okay too.

Why in paragraph 2 why did you write in the brackets “according to Jane”?
Who else could it be according to if not the woman who wrote it in the first place?

This was not me doubting Jane at all. However, because each of us creates our own reality, what I meant was that this was Jane’s particular reality at the time when she wrote it. For instance, we all react and see the world differently depending on our prior experiences of life and our state of mind at the time. Therefore, in Jane’s mind, her friend hurt her deeply, etc. But it seems (from the little we know) that in her friend’s mind (their reality) a whole other event took place. Thus the “according to Jane” statement.

I’m paragraph 3, it would have been helpful if you could have given us, who do not know what ‘outside-in- perspective’ means.

Great point! A lot of my readers already know what this means, but I should have linked it to more information for those who are not familiar with it. The “outside-in perspective” is the way most of us live. We believe that things, people and situations in the world cause us to feel certain ways. Nice people cause us to feel happy. Mean people cause us to feel icky, etc. And of course this makes perfectly logical sense because that’s exactly how it’s supposed to look, and it’s what we’ve been told all our lives.

However, here’s the thing. (Bear with me because this is where it gets weird and hard to believe at first.) All of our experience of life actually comes from within us via our thoughts. (The “inside-out perspective.) The only way we can feel anything is to have a thought first. Please see some of my other posts about how our thoughts create our reality if you’re interested in learning more. Also look up the work of Michael Neill as well as what’s available on the Three Principles Movies website. Not to mention just about any of my most recent blog posts here.)

In paragraph 7 you state that “to you, what happened to Jane is obvious”. How can it be ‘obvious’ when in paragraph 2 you write (according to Jane).

From my (limited) understanding of the inside-out nature of life, her situation WAS obvious to me. It’s a whole lot easier to see how our thoughts are creating our experience of life when looking at other people’s situations. It had nothing to do with doubting Jane’s story, which I totally did not. I have no doubt in my mind that Jane saw the situation as she did and felt the way she did 100%. BUT…and this is a big but…I also believe that Jane could have also seen the situation in an infinite number of ways, because there’s no one way to see a situation.

Then in paragraph 14 you very ‘boldly’ write “I have no idea what was said to Jane, but it doesn’t matter’. How can it not matter?

Yeah, this is definitely one of the harder parts to swallow of the inside-out understanding. And until you have an insight (an aha moment that is) where it becomes clear, you probably won’t believe me (which is fine). But I’ll try to explain as best I can. If you suspend your current beliefs for just a moment, and try and keep an open mind here, it might help!

When we start to see that the way we experience life comes from inside of us, then we also start to see that our experience is not a fixed “given.” What I mean is that there’s no one way for us to feel in a situation. And the way we do feel at any particular time is dependant upon our mood. For instance, in Jane’s case, perhaps she was already in a bad mood for one reason or another when her friend did or said whatever it was. It’s more likely that Jane would see it in a negative light and therefore feel hurt by it. But what if Jane was in a great mood? Everything that week had been going her way and she was one happy camper. Isn’t it likely that Jane may have seen what her friend did or said differently? She may have simply thought to herself, “Oh there goes so-and-so. It’s a shame that she/he always has to say/do things like that. She/he must really have a lot going right now.” In other words, because of Jane’s high state of mind, she might see the other person with compassion instead of hurt. And that’s why what was said, doesn’t really matter. What other people do or say has nothing to with us, it always and only has to do with them. Just knowing that alone might have saved Jane a lot of anguish.

Or could it possibly have to do with the fact, according to you, in paragraph 24, your life is in a bit of a mess right now. You probably know why and what exactly is causing the mess, and can’t face the truth, because it’s too painful for you.

Actually, my life (overall) couldn’t be better at the moment, and most definitely is not what I would describe as “a mess.” At the time I was writing the post, however, I was staying with and helping out a close family member who was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. I found that my inside out understanding of life helped me tremendously to deal more gracefully with the situation. The harder part was more the normal being in close quarters with others where you have a history. Very much like Jane, I cannot yet see some of these particular relationships and the way I feel about them as coming from my own thoughts. No matter how much I know that it is, I still don’t see it (yet). But as I mentioned in the blog post, knowing that it’s coming from me did help. It stopped me from getting as aggravated as I might otherwise have. (That and a lot of long runs!)

As to the rest of your comments, I don’t see any reason to address them. My article seemed to upset you and you decided to lash out at me. No hard feelings. I’m happy to discuss any of the above or other things with you at anytime, either here or by phone or email if any of it strikes even the smallest chord of truth and you’re interested. Please just let me know! – Jill

Jill, I so admire how you handled this comment. And I am loving your articles. Thank you.

Thank you so much for mentioning it, Hannah! I’m glad you are enjoying the articles as well!

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Thanks for the article Jill!! Love it! 🙂

You’re welcome, Katy. Glad you like it!

Hi Jill,

Thank you so much for delving into this phenomenon w/such graciousness and sensitivity. Long story short, I couldn’t agree with you more. No one has the power to “make” you feel anything unless you give them that power. We’re all participants in our life’s relationships, and we do participate in — and yes even create — our own suffering. I know this to be true, as I have done so several times in my lifetime.

I also appreciate your thoughts on difficult relationships — that those people who *seem* to cause you the most distress actually present great learning opportunities. Life lessons. And you get to learn a whole lot about yourself — likely, parts that remained hidden from you (you can’t see around your own corner, after all). A dear girlfriend of mine liked to say that difficult people in our lives are actually angels, there to teach us about ourselves and to help us evolve, and sometimes the growing pains are excruciating.

Thanks again for tackling this thorny, important subject, Jill!

🙂 Laura

You’re welcome, Laura. It sounds like you have a good handle on it too!

I get what you’re saying here: The world around you provides the plot points, but you write the story, right? Makes sense when you really think about it.

Good way to put it, Margie!