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Growth Hurts

Does trauma edify? Does bereavement educate? Do we learn from hardship?

Anyone reading my recent posts would get the message that I believe so. And I doubt many would argue the point. Sure, in the face of recent loss the potential for growth may be hard to accept, but when people look back years later, many dreadful experiences can be seen as transformative. And the idea that life teaches us lessons has obviously been around a long time. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Right?

Then why do we balk at our ordeals? Why is hardship so, well, hard?

You would think a universe constructed to help us grow would make the maturation process easier. Of course, we have no proof that the cosmos serves any particular purpose. The fact that we learn from life doesn’t mean the purpose of life is learning.

But human existence is made easier by organizing beliefs. All the spiritual paths I know of provide a reason for tribulation. Karma. Original sin. Desire. God’s will. Even the religion of material atheism provides an answer: utter randomness. It seems very hard for people to simply live without trying to understand what causes their hardship.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to gain insight, but let’s face it: we cannot solidly identify the motive force behind life. The new atheists are convinced there is no such motivator, but they build that conviction on faith, just like the rest of us.

I’m playing with these ideas to try to separate belief from effect. We learn from life no matter what we think about it. Atheists mature the same as spiritualists. Growth is the one principle that cannot be denied.

Think about that: growth is the one sure thing. And what characterizes life in the first place? Growth. What is the touchstone of modern economics? Growth. What do we gain from our hardships? Growth.

So what do we harvest from our toil on this plane? A more or less steady bounty of movement toward maturity. Some develop more than others, of course, but the process occurs in every life, starting with conception.

So why do we resist the hardship that helps form us? Because it hurts, and our native inclination is to avoid pain.

And why isn’t life easier? Well, what education is easy? Do you learn to be a physician without struggle? Do virtuoso musicians acquire their skill without effort? Does a poet blossom without heartache? If growth is a principle of life, pain is a principle of growth.

But so is joy. The final irony is that by rejecting our instinctive avoidance of pain, and embracing all the lessons of life, the heart finds bliss. This spiritual truth has been announced by saints throughout history. In the present day, even ordinary people are awakening to it, often as a result of meditation.

Is hardship, once accepted as a path to realization, still hard? Of course. But if we abandon our fear, open our hearts, and accept the vicissitudes of life, are we still suffering? Perhaps a little, but not as much as when we resist.

So here’s my larger point: We can find peace no matter what we believe. We can start with the undeniable truth that struggle brings growth, and then accept hardship as ultimately beneficial. The alternative is to fight fate, suffer terribly, then grow anyway.

Growth Hurts

Will Meecham, MD

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APA Reference
Meecham, W. (2013). Growth Hurts. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2013
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