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.