7 Life Lessons I Learned from My Pain

by Melissa Karnaze

iStock_000004062392XSmallIf I could go back in time and visit my younger self, I’d be tempted to give her some advice.

Forewarn her of the challenges up ahead. Tell her how to handle them.

But I wouldn’t.

Because I know what I know today — because I learned it from my pain.

I did things wrong first. Messed up repeatedly. Hit rock bottom. Lost hope. Made mistakes I’ll regret for the rest of my life.

It’s because of that darkness that I’m stronger than I could have been without the falls and the heartache.

Here are seven precious life lessons my pain has taught me along my way:

1. You can’t escape your negative feelings

In my teenage years I had difficulty experiencing and expressing my negative emotions. I thought I could ignore them, or turn them into good things, like smiles and tolerance. This didn’t work of course, and as a result I slowly numbed out and lost my sense of identity.

When I began to accept my negative emotions, namely my anger, I began to reclaim my sense of self.

It’s my anger that tells me who I am not, what I will not tolerate, what I don’t believe. My anger, just like all of my other negative emotions, reminds me of who I am.

People go through life wanting to experience certain feelings. Like happiness and joy. They think they can skip all the bad feelings. But you can’t escape yourself. The sooner you realize this the sooner you’ll stop fighting against who you are.

2. You can’t take on someone else’s pain

Part of the reason why I had emotional problems in my teenage years was that I was hypersensitive to other people’s emotional states. I felt what they felt. And I could name feelings they didn’t know they were experiencing.

Partly because I’m just empathetic, and partly because of the codependency pattern.

In indirect ways, I focused more on what other people were feeling, and their problems — than on myself. I took their pain as the lead to neglect my own issues, and it was a convenient one at that.

Only for a time though. Because I would later get burnt out and frustrated that the other person wouldn’t change. This pattern culminated in an unhealthy relationship with a young man who wasn’t getting any better. That relationship dragged me down, and down and down, until I found myself crying throughout the day for no reason. Unable to recognize what feelings were mine and what were his.

That was when I knew I had a real problem. And that I had to reclaim myself. If I was ever going to life my life, for me.

You can feel for another, be there for them, offer them support. But at some point you have to draw a line.

You can’t take on someone else’s problems and feelings; otherwise you’ll do no good as a source of support. Don’t let the boundaries between where they end and where you begin — blur — because you need those boundaries to exist.

3. Love is not enough

I learned this the hard way. Love is not enough to keep people together.

Because those negative emotions won’t go away. Conflict won’t just disappear for the sake of courtesy. Things get rough, people have to face their demons, and feel the fear that comes with getting intimately entangled with someone else.

You won’t be ready for the kind of emotional intimacy necessary for a healthy relationship until you have an intimate relationship with yourself.

Relationships need more than the feeling of love to survive. They require healthy personal boundaries, and total emotional honesty — actions of love.

Those little grievances that slide? There’s no such thing as sweating the small stuff, you compromise honesty every time. When suppressed, small grievances solidify as resentment. And slowly build into something greater. Invisible walls that keep people apart.

Love is not enough. You have to put yourself first — otherwise there’s no “you” in the relationship. Which means you have to the dirty work, of loving your ego and working with your negative emotions.

4. Being single isn’t the end of the world

Solitude is something I truly treasure. And something I need for my sanity. I found this out during the times when I was single.

Life is too short to worry about being single. You won’t be able to hold on to a relationship when it comes along, if you don’t:

  • Already know who you are, which requires that you spend some serious alone time
  • Figure out what your needs and boundaries are, which are hard to negotiate six months into a relationship
  • Know how to be totally emotionally honest with yourself, first, then with others

That widespread dream about the perfect soul mate and the perfect marriage and the perfect life?

It’s a fantasy — meant to distract you from finding yourself. And loving yourself. Loving yourself so much that you’d rather focus all your energy on doing the things you love and sharing your gifts with the world — than feeling lonely or inadequate because you’re not in a romantic relationship.

It’s much more painful to be with the wrong person or be with the right person and have it not work out — than it is to enjoy being single. Because if you’re enjoying it, you’re going to be that much more prepared for creating and maintaining a healthy relationship when he or she does come along.

5. Perfection doesn’t exist

It took some heartbreak for me to reprogram my notions of “the perfect guy.” You know the guy, he’s in the chick flicks. His most recent incarnation is Edward Cullen — the dream of any teenage girl’s heart. Totally unrealistic, a contradiction of sorts, yet ubiquitous in the media.

Well, the perfect guy doesn’t exist. The perfect relationship doesn’t exist. Because there is no such thing as perfection.

There are good parts of life and there are bad parts of life. Sometimes you can turn the bad things into good. But overall, life is chaotic. You can’t tell the future. All you can do is respond.

When I let go of the fantasy of “the perfect guy” I began to find myself. And from that state, I stopped expecting for meto be perfect.

Perfection doesn’t exist. It can’t be measured; there’s no certified scale. Perfection is beneath human. Hitting perfection means that you check off all the right boxes, getting the perfect score. Humans are so beyond check boxes. They’re insanely complex, with unlimited potential.

You’re better than perfect, you’re human. There’s no end to your growth and there’s no end to your ability to love.

6. Your dark side is your guiding light

When you stop trying to escape your feelings, something beautiful occurs.

You get in touch with you who are. Who you were meant to be — as in, you minus all the dysfunctional stuff holding you back.

I found my greatest strength when I was at my weakest. I found my brightest optimism from being in my darkest moments. That’s the dark side of personal development. The story of life that doesn’t get the limelight.

But it’s how growth happens. It’s how we learn, it’s who we are. We experience life through polarity. Gain wisdom through pain. We come to know what’s good through knowing what’s bad. We understand what’s worth giving our life for when we admit to ourselves what we can’t bear to live without.

Behind every nagging thought or unpleasant feeling, is an invitation. To learn more about who you are and why you think and feel in the ways you do. If you follow that invitation, work with your negative emotions, you’ll find a guiding light that shows you what you want to be living for.

7. Your life is on lease, love with all your heart as much as you can

So much of what’s beyond your doorstep is an attempt to distract you from the fact that you’re not going to be here on Earth forever.

The latest gossip, the latest fashion trend, the latest controversy, even the latest breaking news — is that really relevant to who you are and what you want to do before you die?

When you settle in to the thought that nothing on earth lasts forever. When you realize that your loved ones might not always be there. When you accept that a part of being alive is losing precious people and things and getting hurt because of it. When you make peace with that process and stop trying to ignore it.

Then you’re ready to live.

To treasure each day for what it is. To love those you care about with all your heart, in action and feeling. To be brave enough to face the fears and vulnerability that come with loving.

Sometimes you don’t know what something means to you until you’ve lost it. Treasure what’s important to you, without taking it for granted. Because nothing in life is ever for granted.

How about you?

What life lessons have you learned from your pain? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

This article was inspired by and written for Abubakar Jamil’s Life Lessons Series.

If you’d like to publish your life lessons on your own site, let Abubakar know and he might include it in the upcoming ebook on the topic!

About the Author: Melissa Karnaze is the founder of Mindful Construct. She shares ten more powerful life lessons in her free e-class, Your Life is Your Construct.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Abubakar Jamil August 13, 2010 at 12:40 pm


Such a wonderful post and thank you so much for your valuable contribution to the Life Lessons Series.

I can relate to your lessons and specially the underlying message.

Haider August 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Beautiful post, Melissa!

I have a lot of thoughts about the issues you’ve raised, so my head is hurting right now.

The points that I found most relevant to my own life experiences are #2 and #5.

I usually don’t retaliate when others say hurtful things to me because I can’t bring myself to hurt others. And when I do, I sense their pain, which amplifies my own suffering.

I also have a tendency to take on the responsibility of making other people happy. Usually I’m unable to satisfy this wish, whether due to work and family commitments, or because I have my own demons and insecurities to deal with.

Besides, happiness is a choice, and others must choose how they deal with their own challenges. I can never make decisions on other people’s behalf. So it’s healthier to suggest a different shoe size, rather than wear their shoes.

And as for perfection, I can safely say that my relationship with my wife is always strengthened after a disagreement. Trying to avoid disagreements to maintain a perfect image of a perfect relationship undermines the relationship, rather than help it grow and evolve.

I feel like hugging myself right now. ;)

Fate August 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Nice post Melissa.

Thanks Haider for recommending it and knowing you, I say you are very similar to your older sister :)

I am writing a novel that would discuss some of the lessons I have learned. Definitely through pain and disappointments that we wake up to learn new lessons.
It is when the people you love let you down that you get to realize your own strength and I quote “Invictus” on one of the lessons learned that;

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”

and what Haider was refer to as choice :)

Evan August 13, 2010 at 10:48 pm

The big one for me: stay open, stay with it and it works.

I also think we can learn painlessly and from good things. Not all the pain is necessary in my view.

Pat August 15, 2010 at 5:01 am

I have thought in the past that I would love to go back to teen years and do it all differently. That ends of taking in part of my early adulthood.

Then I realize if I hadn’t been through that pain, and this pain and that dissapointment I would not be who I am nor with the person I married. I negate everything that means something to me.

A couple pieces of advice have heeded me well.
A smile doesn’t cost you anything and can take you a long way.
To grieve is human, to suffer is a choice.

Thanks for the wonderful post, Melissa.

Melissa Karnaze August 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

Abubakar, thanks so much for the inspiration and including this in your series!

Haider, happiness definitely is a choice. One of the downsides of trying to be responsible for how happy others are — is that you become hypersensitive to what they could be happy for right now. And when they choose not to accept it into their lives, there’s nothing you can do about it! Surrender isn’t easy, but it’s really the only way.

“And as for perfection, I can safely say that my relationship with my wife is always strengthened after a disagreement. Trying to avoid disagreements to maintain a perfect image of a perfect relationship undermines the relationship, rather than help it grow and evolve.”

That’s a great way to put it. You can’t suffocate a relationship for the sake of appearances. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Hi Fate, what you say can’t be emphasized enough:

“when the people you love let you down that you get to realize your own strength

This is one of those lost secrets of life. Society has you believe that following your own grieving process and allowing yourself to feel vulnerable are no-no’s — too weak and intimate. But without that journey, you’ll never tap into your true strength.

Evan, it’s amazing how much you can learn from something if you just stay open and with it!

Pat, that’s a good point about negating your life when you long to undue the pains of the past. I think it goes beyond that too. When people long to make everything happy and “perfect” right now, they negate themselves, their true feelings, and their humanness.

“To grieve is human, to suffer is a choice.”

Thank you for sharing this Pat! I’m going to let my noodle bake on this for a while :P

Bhala August 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

Hi Melissa,

this is a real eye opener for me. Thanks for this wonderful post. I just came out off a very bad figth with my best friend,and incidentally stumbled upon this post. i was instantly able to relate myself to most of the points mentioned here , which if i followed will benfit both of us. glad that i read through the post. :)

kristalfiel August 20, 2010 at 7:00 am

i am very much relating to this article…i’ve been through a deep hurt which dragged me to pain…
its very true that we really dont know the value of a thing until its gone…ive lost a lot of it already..but then, i had to accept that its maybe its really not meant to last with me…
ive also been very conscious to perfection,im insecure and inferior…and yeah it caused me no good…ive been left being stuck to my insecurities,felt underestimated,discriminated and rejected…yet i was wrong,i havent seen the side which i am appreciated,admired and loved…i was wrong when i allowed pessimism invade me and ruin me…
i have experienced being disliked…worst way that was…
ive been annihilated in front of the peoples eyes by the issues far from what is true…ive been down,i felt alone,i felt ruined…
but then, my eyes where opened…if not because of what happened,i wouldnt be able to know the people who are really true to me and those people who really know me and that how they see me as a person positively were not change just bec.of what that someone did…i cried enough for those who are unworthy of my tears…
but now…i am coping up,i am standing tall again and i am moving forward…

thanks for inspiring a lot of people like me…
definitely we are learning from the pain and that will make us better individuals…^_^

Melissa Karnaze August 20, 2010 at 11:35 am


Thank you for your heartfelt comments!

“if not because of what happened,i wouldnt be able to know the people who are really true to me and those people who really know me and that how they see me as a person positively were not change just bec.of what that someone did”

It’s much healthier to know who really does care about you, and to not waste yourself trying to get the approval of those who don’t. What a powerful lesson. :)

kristalfiel September 5, 2010 at 5:23 am

thank you miss M…

Tito Philips, Jnr. February 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Thank you for sharing these Life lessons Melissa.
Most of them I can relate with, especially because I have gone through a very painful break up and have learnt so much from the experience how true it is to first find yourself before going out to find the significant other. Most times, it’s those who don’t enjoy themselves enough that end up hurting others in a relationship.

Melissa Karnaze February 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Tito, I agree, it’s easier to hurt loved ones when you aren’t taking care of yourself. Your relationship with you is always involved in your relationships with others!

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