The Value of Discomfort
Written by Sheri Gallagher, in Section Parent Resources
Everybody in the world feels at least a little discomfort, physical or mental, every day.
It might seem obvious discomfort is something we should avoid. Many psychologists believe the desire to avoid pain – intense discomfort – and seek pleasure are basic drives shared by all living things. But humans are different: We can find meaning in discomfort.
What is Discomfort Trying to Tell You?
Let’s think about some common forms of discomfort people can feel:
Things that are hard or confusing can cause frustration, which teens and young adults might experience as boredom. Someone who feels bored “all the time” can have trouble concentrating, especially at school. This means the confusion doesn’t go away and can even get worse.
Discomfort from feelings of danger helps young people protect themselves from harm. It’s important to listen to “gut feelings” about safety. But, when teens have been in threatening situations for a long time, they may start to feel endangered by day-to-day experiences.
Sadness is discomfort caused by loss or feeling things aren’t as they should be. It’s normal in times of grief, especially if someone passes away. Sadness can help you think about what’s most important to you, but it also makes it harder to notice the good things around you.
Discomfort becomes a problem if it goes on too long. In one experiment, psychologists saw that dogs forced to endure constant discomfort they couldn’t escape eventually “gave up” and stopped trying to get away. In effect, they learned to be helpless.
In small doses, though, discomfort can be a positive force.
How Discomfort Encourages Growth
Discomfort can be worth it when it helps us change for the better. Young people, in particular, need to learn how to put up with discomfort – because there will always be times of discomfort on the road to a more fulfilling life.
Discomfort Can Tell You What Needs to Change
If you are discontent about something, odds are good that it – or something about it – is within your power to change. Rather than making us helpless, discomfort can show us where we are powerful. This is especially important for teens and young adults still learning about the ways they can change their world for the better when they look for creative ways to solve problems.
Discomfort is Often a Sign of Progress
Sometimes, discomfort helps you know when you are moving toward your goals. This can be obvious – like muscle aches after vigorous exercise. Most of the time, however, it’s subtler: Doing a little bit better on a task that used to seem impossible, for example.
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