Life is Difficult.

One of the first books I read on the psychology of love, traditional values, and spiritual growth was The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. A great book to read if you think you’d like to improve the way you live your life. I was in my early twenties. The book starts with the sentence Life is difficult. Peck goes on to talk of this fact as a great truth, even suggesting it is one of the greatest truths. He suggests that when we can accept it as such, we can transcend it.

My life at that time had indeed been consistently difficult. The following twenty years have not been easier, and I have no reason at all to believe this trend will cease to continue. One of the first things I try to get across to my clients is this truth, not about my life specifically but about all people’s lives. I have been told on numerous occasions that it is profoundly comforting, reassuring and encouraging to know. I wonder if this not knowing is a sad reflection of our superficial times. When everyone’s social media boasts a perfect existence how are we to know it is likely that beneath these public displays likely lies a darker, more normal truth…

So why is it difficult.? Because when you boil it down, in part life is a series of problems and solving problems is challenging and painful. As is pretending we don’t have any or attempting to avoid them in a plethora of energy zapping and often ultimately destructive ways.

One of the things about human beings that is endlessly interesting to me is how much we like to complain about our pain and problems rather than facing them and overcoming them. On and on and on we go. Sometimes we do it out loud, when there happens to be someone around unfortunate enough to have to listen but often, we also do it in our heads. Give it some thought now. How often do you find yourself mentally dwelling on the past? What stupid things you did or hurtful things that were done to you? How much time do you spend fretting about or dreading the future? The what ifs? What if I lose my job? What if he leaves me? What if we never have sex again? What if he finds out about the affair? What if it is my fault, he is self-harming? What if we can’t make the mortgage payment? What if I get cancer? And on it goes…

The great Carl Jung said that neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. There is a futility to this mind pollution that strikes me as perverse. Normal and common, but perverse. The scary thing is that a lot of people don’t even know they are doing it! Another author I enjoy hugely, Eckhart Tolle talks about this ever present, low lying general resentment with life as a major problem for each of us and for humanity as a collective. He suggests that the outer pollution we all create reflects this inner pollution we all have.

All life experiences adversity. You must only watch nature programmes to know this. If you have watched enough, you will have seen that every species, both animal and plant goes through tremendous struggle to survive. Do you think they complain as much?

Once we accept the fact that life is difficult and understand that it is not personal, it is not just you or worse for you or evidence that you are a bad person or that God hates you, you can move on. With this fact understood, a great weight is lifted and a great barrier to change too.

We all suffer a wealth of difficulties. Endless hurdles to overcome whether it be a poor childhood, a job loss, a death, poor health, a marriage on the rocks, children who aren’t coping at school or suffering from anxiety, money worries, a 10-year depression, ageing, lockdowns, useless politicians, wars, late buses, a cancelled flight, or the neighbour’s dog who barks morning to night, so we better learn to do it with some grace and humility or we will suffer endlessly.

We also have a duty to our children, to teach them the crucial skills necessary for solving problems and I don’t just mean how to tie their laces and use cutlery! We have an emotional self and a psychological self and like all the other areas of our life, problems arise here too. If we are dishonest with them about the fact that we are arguing, if we hide our grief, or downplay the hurt we feel when someone we love lets us down, we deprive our children of vital information about how to work through these common experiences and show them it is okay to struggle.

Facing and working through problems is the stuff of adulthood. It is a sign we are doing the tricky job of growing up.

‘It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them. And even if it were possible to permanently banish everything threatening, everything dangerous (and, therefore, everything challenging and interesting), that would mean only that another danger would emerge: that of permanent human infantilism and absolute uselessness.’

– Jordan B. Peterson
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Learning to solve problems is where we find meaning in life and respect for ourselves. Becoming someone who faces problems and building the discipline necessary for solving them makes us feel good about ourselves. Doing the opposite makes us feel weak and scared and ashamed. And that is most certainly another problem.

The statistics on suicide in this country are hard to look at. I would argue that we all should. The men are faring far worse, and the question why haunts me as the mother of a beautiful young son. And what about the statistics on prescription medication last published for 2017-2018 which had over one quarter of the population on a mixture of mood disorder medications. I should not imagine this has improved.

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What about the increase in alcohol sales and vape pens or the endless hours of screen usage or divorces? Are these not all attempts at pain relief? If you can’t solve your problems, numbing yourself, running from them, or avoiding them is your only option and this will create even more problems.

Jordan Peterson urges us to strengthen the individual, and to start with ourselves and surely this individual strengthening in large part means to work at facing and solving our problems.

I wonder if we each took it upon ourselves to be a little more honest about the fact that we have problems. If we talked more openly and more regularly and even more publicly about this fact, we would surely stand a greater chance of solving them more effectively. We would share that we are all afraid, that we all feel inadequate and worry we might not be loveable. We are all worried about our kids, and our marriages and our health.

How will we ever hope to learn to solve problems when we are so hell bent on pretending to be fine all the time?

Telling the truth about who you are is what makes you real. Authenticity is achieved when we express ourselves fully and if life is truly and endlessly difficult this includes our telling the truth about our problems.

The only other option is to put on an act, and that is truly a tragedy of being.

So, what are the basic tools for problem solving? A question you might ask if you have an honest desire to face your problems and the wisdom to know that overcoming your problems is your problem.

Laura How
Laura How

My name is Laura and I have been a counsellor since 2011. I am also a happy wife, mother, exercise enthusiast and personal growth fanatic.

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