Character and the Will to Bear Discomfort

One has to cultivate the will to bear discomfort to be of healthy character. But that’s a real challenge in our hedonistic, instant-gratification age. I’ve known plenty of folks who made a mess of their lives because they weren’t willing to work through uncomfortable feelings or circumstances. Their lack of will to bear discomfort made a mess of others’ lives as well. That’s why the “fifth commandment” I’ve been posting about is so important to understand and observe.

The Heart of the Problem

Researchers have told us for a while that some impaired characters appear to have a built-in inability to delay gratification. They assert this especially about those qualifying for one of the “Cluster B” personality disorder diagnoses. And they’ve told us that such folks also have a deficient inhibitory control mechanism. But we’ve recently become aware how flawed this simple perspective is. Some of the most seriously disturbed characters can actually delay gratification and control their impulses quite well. A sexual predator might patiently groom an intended target for weeks or even months, for example. The bigger problem, it seems, is how intolerant disturbed characters are of bearing certain kinds of burdens. And the burdens they most resent are those that serve the greater social good.

The Cost of Pain Intolerance

I’ve counseled many young persons who struggled greatly in their bids to become responsible adults. And their biggest hurdles often had to do with bearing discomfort. Some went beyond a mere intolerance for discomfort to an outright loathing of it. And they were the most prone to seek immediate relief and instant gratification. They couldn’t stand the mundane or being “bored.” So they resorted to a pattern some refer to as “chasing highs.”

Some of the discomfort-intolerant I counseled were overly coddled or too quickly “rescued” by their parents.  They were too often “saved” from the painful consequences of their mistakes, so they were unfortunately “enabled” to keep making those same mistakes. Some pains that enter our lives can indeed be destructive. But others can be quite constructive. That’s particularly true when we let the pain teach us an important lesson. It’s how we develop the skills to deal with it more effectively or even avoid it altogether in the future. I’ve learned how important it is to encourage younger folks to reinforce themselves for every effort they make to face and deal with the things they find uncomfortable. It’s important even in the smallest of things. Facing and dealing with life’s little discomforts is what helps folks build the strength and the skills to deal with its bigger difficulties.

Key Qualities of Character

There are several qualities a person must acquire to forge a strong, healthy character. Patience, endurance, and perseverance are among them. But before anyone can acquire these virtues, he or she must first cultivate both the ability and the will to bear discomfort. In the absence of that crucial willingness, we all kick and scream and want to retreat to the womb in a way when things get tough. Today, we have too many hedonistic thinkers among us. They’re folks so convinced life owes them a good time that a life devoid of a steady stream of “highs” seems a life not worth living. These folks are in many ways spiritually dead. We simply must make room in our hearts to embrace life’s most essential burdens. And when we do, we not only become less miserable but also find the strength to truly live.


Learn more about the “10 commandments” of character in my book Character Disturbance.  I discuss some of these commandments in The Judas Syndrome and How Did We End Up Here? also. And look for a more in-depth discussion of the importance of the will to bear discomfort in my upcoming book with Dr. Kathy Armistead. It’s tentatively titled The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life.

Because of the holiday weekend, Character Matters on Sunday September 4, 2016 will be a rebroadcast of an earlier recorded program. No live phone calls can be taken.

13 thoughts on “Character and the Will to Bear Discomfort

  1. I am glad Dr. Simon also mentioned “ability”, because I think it is more than a lack of “will” at times, especially with our emotions and feelings.

    For example, someone with high anxiety may not know how to work through it, because they have not studied the roots of their anxiety, they have not had the opportunity to observe good role models handle distressful situations, they have not been challenged to alter their perspective of a situation that causes anxiety.

    At times, it’s a lack of knowledge and ability, not of will, imo, so the person reverts to their accustomed methods and behaviours to lower their anxiety. These might be alcohol, drugs, anger, or manipulating others to maintain control, which of course, affects the people around them.

    1. To persevere when against all odd puts one in a position we might be unaccustomed to, this place can be overwhelmingly unbearable and frightening because we have entered a place of the unknown. Given the positions we may find ourselves in in divorcing ourselves from the toxic CDMN. In order to do so one has to develop and inner strength of tolerance to be uncomfortable in order to endure. Many times it is one step at a time or even a breath.

      Many times the road ahead seems impassible, full of potholes and ruts from ones that have fought their way forward before me and looking ahead all the bridges are down, how do I get through to the other side? Do I turn back? I know what is behind me and I know what to expect, ahead is the unknown and the full knowledge that I am alone and alone I must make this journey. I have not always been able to make this journey and I am tired.

      The CD along the way are like hungry mosquitoes swarming, vying for a sip of my life blood (my soul) a drop at a time and will not stop till you are dry. There is an illusion of a wayside, or is it real? should I wander over, do I tarry or slowly trudge forward, weaving in and out of obstacles which would surely do me in. Do I have the inner strength to go on and forgo a reprieve. Have I built the needed character and courage to pull me through and most of all have I developed my faith in God that he alone will carry me when I can go no further. Many times there is only one set of footprints and they are not mine.

      Just thinking

      Jeanne, Lucy, AndyD, all of you who have come and gone you are in my prayers and I feel your pain. ((((Hugs)))) and ((((Blessings))))

    2. Anne,

      I think when we suffer from anxiety and I do in fact, I was diagnosed with PTSD from no less than 11 Dr.s The PTSD was the result of a sexual assault 30 years ago. I have battled with the PTSD for that long and when you have anxiety you are very aware that something is wrong. I first had to acquire the will to want to embrace and understand my PTSD and with that came the ability.

      I realized that no one could do it for me and if I wanted a better life I had to do the work, and with that I alone did the work. I believe that almost everybody has the choice to attack the demons or the demons overcome you. With wanting to change and I have been able to successfully manage and integrate some of the symptoms with the help of very good health professionals, I used my abilities to learn coping skills and other modalities to utilize. Know I had a choice in the matter empowered me but it was a difficult journey.

      I still deal with PTSD which will always be a part of me, it still affects me and I have to reign it in. I have also dealt with others that did have the ability to change but refused.

      In todays day and age there is very little that one can not find out about. Knowledge is power and the best advocate we can have is ourselves if we are capable and want help, then hopefully, we may be blessed with a loyal and empathetic family member to help us on our journey.

      In my humble opinion.

  2. This article came at a good time since I am constantly bearing painful and stressful situations throughout this ugly divorce process. I do want to retreat. But where to? The Poor House? I want life easy again, but that’s not going to happen. So I bear it, every day. I’m thankful for this site and good friends, to help me through an awful situation.

  3. Lucy,

    You indeed are bearing discomfort and are in a painful and stressful situation. At the same time you are displaying patience, endurance and perseverance. Unlike the CDN who chose the low road you have chosen the high road, a tough an challenging road. To choose this road and to stick with it it takes guts, courage and character and that my dear you can’t buy for any amount of money.

    Lucy, you may lose money but your character is priceless and that no one can take from you unless you give it. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing, we are just caretakers for awhile. In essence you ended up with the real prize, you ended up not losing you and becoming more than you ever dreamed of. Don’t ever lose sight of this.

    Every time you look into your grandsons eyes, know he is part of you and you live on through him. He is our future and you are leading him the right way. I hope I said this right.

    1. Lucy, Jeannie

      I have you both in my prayers, I am always glad when I see your posts. Lucy you add so much and know you are having a very difficult time. Please keep posting and let us know how you are doing, pour and vent here and release some the anxiety and the immense pressures you are under.

      Dear Jeannie,
      We are concerned we haven’t heard from you. I understand that at times we can be so overwhelmed, we lack words to even express our grief and the betrayal. I understand we can feel so withdrawn and beat down we don’t have the strength or desire to even write out sadness and disillusionment.

      I understand how one can ask, how can anyone understand or how anyone can even care. But know this we do care and worry about you, you have been in our thoughts and my prayers. I know Lucy is worried and asks about you, she really cares so much about others and at this time she has so much she is going through and still reaches out to others.

      Please know that anytime, just a word would suffice to let us know you are OK and you are always welcome regardless. We always will reach out to help and assist in anyway, whatever you choose to do. I hope you can find the strength to persevere. Jeannie we won’t forget you.

      God bless and be with you and keep you safe Kindred Spirit and giant ((Hugs))

  4. Joey,
    It’s been some time since you posted one of your poems, do you think you could possibly find one for this topic. I sort of rambled a lot tonight, thanks all for listening.

    Thank you and (((( Big Hugs))))

  5. Dr Simon,

    Another fantastic article. Thank you!! You and C.S Lewis inspire me. You both have such a deep and clear understanding of human nature. I started to read your work at a very sensitive juncture in my life. I have been able to improve my own character out of a strong desire to be a better person, without feeling shame about the person I was. And I wasn’t that bad. But I still rationalized character flaws instead of admitting to myself that I had the ability and strength to change them.
    I think in my case, only, (am not generalizing to anyone else on the blog) shame was used as such a controlling mechanism I stayed away from self criticism because it would trigger too much humiliation and crippling fear. I have prayed (meditated?) to be strong enough to face myself head on. God knows I have done this with everybody else!

    Now it’s my turn to kick my ass!

    1. LisaO,
      Very well said, and agree from your standpoint in my own life. I love C.S. Lewis and is one of my favorite authors. I have found so much strength and validation from this blog and so many of the posters.

      I am so glad your going to kick ass, your one strong and whip snappy lady, I will enjoy learning from you.

      A Big Hug to you Kindred Spirit

  6. And btw a huge big hug to btov, Lucy (speaking of kicking someone in the butt, I wish your ex was bent over in my general area!) Ann and Joey.

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