Flavors of discomfort

Abuse is uncomfortable. But not all discomfort is abuse.

Discomfort can be used as a tool for inspiring change, growth, and transformation.

Photo copyright Tim Birchard 2011.

It’s important to pay attention to discomfort; it can be a valuable signal that we’re putting ourselves in danger, or that others are treating us in unhealthy ways.

People who are not aware of the difference between abuse, which is damaging, and discomfort, which is simply an indicator that an area in our life needs attention, can jump to the conclusion that any time they experience discomfort, they are being abused or mistreated.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries often involves bearing witness to the discomfort of another. Becoming comfortable with another’s discomfort (given we are not causing mental, physical, or emotional injury) is key to this type of growth.

If I clearly and respectfully state my needs (knowing full well that they may not be met) and the person I’m talking to begins crying, runs up the stairs, and slams the door, it’s easy for onlookers to put blame on me. “If that person got upset enough to run away crying and slam the door, then you must have done something wrong. Their behavior is evidence of your guilt.”

This is broken thinking. And sadly, it’s all too common.

If I ask for your feedback on my album cover draft and you tell me you don’t like it, and follow up with concrete reasons why you don’t like it, I may experience emotional discomfort. And at that moment, I find myself at a fork in the road; I have a choice. I can either claim abuse and try to make you responsible for my emotional state (“you hurt my feelings!”). Or I can recognize that you respect me enough to share your honest thoughts and feelings with me, knowing full well that I might experience discomfort.

Photo copyright Tim Birchard 2011.

In my book, this is the definition of true friendship. As Oscar Wilde said, “Friends stab you in the front.” I’ll take that ANY DAY over someone who tries to protect my feelings (and ultimately, their own) by being dishonest with me.

How about you? How are you becoming more comfortable with discomfort in your life? How do you distinguish between healthy and unhealthy discomfort in your life? In your music? In your art?


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