Prepared For Pain

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Like all other organisms, we are highly motivated by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure. Unlike most other organisms, pain and pleasure take place for us not just in the physiological sphere but also in the psychological sphere. Actually fMRI scans have shown that our brains interpret emotional pain the same way they interpret physical pain, which is why we say things like “You really hurt me when you did that” or “you broke my heart” without thinking twice about how blurred the lines are between the concrete and the psychological.

And so we see that many people choose to stop feeling much of anything at all, not because they are hardhearted but because they have been hurt badly enough that they become primarily motivated by avoiding any more emotional pain. The psychological solution is to just stop caring about anything.

Emotional engagement is one of those all or nothing things where you either take the bad with the good or you take nothing at all. You don’t get to turn it on and off like a faucet, and while the pleasant experiences will be intensely satisfying the painful experiences will be intensely painful too. You’re sure to get your fair share of both. If you’re prepared for pain you’ll put yourself in a better position to decide the tradeoff is worth it, because while feeling nothing protects you from emotional hurt the decision ends up hurting you at an even more fundamental level, keeping you from feeling all of the pleasant sensations and from experiencing the deep human connections that make life wonderful.