Explanations of suffering and its remedies have exploded in self-help blogs on the Internet. Tens of millions globally seek relief from painful lives and look for strategies for growth and fulfillment.
Much of this advice giving and receiving centers on how to escape from various forms of suffering:
Anger, irritation, impatience, and resentment
Feelings of inadequacy, depression, or grief
Cynicism and negativity
Confusion about being stuck
The self-help blogs on the Internet focus almost entirely on explaining what causes suffering and on providing strategies to avoid it, alleviate it, or transform it.
Recent titles from popular self-help blogs include:
- 6 Lies Your Depression Wants You to Believe…
- When Your Friends Happy News Fills You with Envy Instead of Joy
- Stop Attracting Unhealthy Relationships…
- The Hardest Truth: I Don’t Have a Passion
- 6 Things to Do When You Feel Small and Insignificant
Some of the authors are professional coaches or therapists, but many are not.
Comments from readers testify that they find these posts helpful, encouraging, and inspiring. Our widening human inquiry into suffering and our search for answers through science, psychology, and philosophy are producing better and better explanations and remedies. But our explanations of reality always fall short of the complete truth and they probably always will.
So how do the explanations of human suffering in the Internet self-help world fall short as explanations of reality? At least two ways:
- The explanations are too brief to investigate adequately the profound issues of human suffering and learning. Authors have only a small frame in which to share their personal story and what they did to improve their happiness and well-being. For someone who is habitually angry, for instance, the typical blog discussion can only provide some solace and point him in a general direction.
- Authors seem reluctant or unable to confront readers about their patterns of thinking and behavior. Either the authors don’t know enough about the causes of suffering, or they are unwilling to challenge their readers very much. It’s easier to be gentle with the reader, offering comfort and some easily palatable suggestions.
The root of much, maybe most, of our suffering is self-pity. We feel sorry for ourselves, and then we quickly invent a victim story: Someone or something is doing something to me. There are no “5 Tips to Stop Feeling Bad” that will help us now. We are locked into a bad explanation. Feeling sorry for ourselves, we become angry, irritated, impatient, resentful, depressed, or cynical.
Then we seek support. We cry out to friends and family for sympathy and agreement. We beseech people like us — people who don’t understand their own self-pity, and they ride, speedily we hope, to the rescue. Oh, you poor thing! I’m sorry you’re suffering, and who wouldn’t be suffering, given what you’ve been going through. (Those who do not sympathize with our victimhood will seem unkind, unsympathetic, insensitive.) Now rescued by victims like ourselves, we obsess, plotting revenge or actually dishing it out. We haven’t learned a thing because we can’t take responsibility for the life we’re creating. Our troubles are forever “out there,” in the cruel world.
Self-pity and victimhood are the prevailing themes in our current stage of human evolution, and we won’t be advancing much until large numbers of our species learn to erase their self-pity and become creative agents of our lives. Almost no self-help blog discussion of suffering gets down to this fundamental cause of suffering.
So, in the usual self-help mode, if you are suffering — angry, irritated, or resentful, for instance — you have good reason to be. The authors know how you feel because they feel that way too, as their personal stories illustrate.
A good explanation for our suffering is that we feel sorry for ourselves, project the cause of our suffering onto others, and then — because we don’t have the courage, knowledge, or support to embrace our own learning —have to repeat these cycles of suffering over and over, often for our entire lives.
Can we actually erase our self-pity? Yes, lots of people have done it. It takes immense courage to face our self-pity and victimhood and to stop looking for rescue from from others lost in the victim explanation for suffering. Our suffering points directly to what we must learn. When we discover that our self-pity explains our suffering, we emerge at last.
Eventually, our self-pity shrinks and disappears. We’re not angry any more. We don’t get depressed any more. We’re not stuck anymore.
We sail free.