Uncomfortable is not the same as unsafe. The distinction is crucial to our growth.
How We Try to Escape Discomfort
Our natural inclination is to run away from the uncomfortable places. We escape our discomfort through a wide range of “vehicles:” food, alcohol, drugs, social media, books, television, movies, video games, busy work, shopping, exercise, comedy/humor, sarcasm, retreating to the corner, being the life of the party, and many more.
To be clear, none of these escape methods is inherently “bad” — most of them are worthy pursuits in their own right; it’s only when we use them to escape that they become problematic. For example: exercise is necessary and healthy. Exercise as a form of escaping another discomfort can become a problem.
Escape is Not Always Bad
Also, escape in itself is not always wrong. Sometimes we need to escape an uncomfortable situation. Obviously if that’s the case we want to do so in the healthiest way possible.
The Less Obvious Escape
But there is another way we often try to escape discomfort that gets less attention, and is never healthy: blame.
Specifically, when we blame others for our discomfort.
He made me uncomfortable.
She said something that made me uncomfortable.
How Blame is a Form of Escape
Blaming others for our discomfort is an attempt to escape because, through blame, we absolve ourselves from the need to look at our own discomfort.
And who wants to look at their own discomfort? We want to run as far in the other direction as possible.
I don’t come from a place of judgement here. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. Who hasn’t?Why Blaming Others is a Mistake
It took me a long time to learn that escaping discomfort, through whatever means, including blaming others, is a mistake on two levels.
(1) You Control Meaning
First, it ignores the basic principle that you control the meaning of what you experience. If you feel uncomfortable because of what someone else said or did, that’s on you.
If you feel uncomfortable and don’t want to deal, you are free to leave. Escape isn’t always bad; sometimes walking away from the situation is necessary. But escape through blaming disempowers you. It removes your agency.
Either seek to give it a different meaning or see number two.
(2) Discomfort Leads to Growth
Every entrepreneur, every seeker on the path to growth, has heard the cliche that growth happens outside your comfort zone.
Discomfort is a signal that you’re in a growth opportunity. To grow, we must lean in to the discomfort, not escape it.
Certain life situations are particularly prone to producing discomfort that leads to growth.
Exploring our personal boundaries.
Letting go of what others expect or think of us.
Many of these situations produce an inner conflict. We may feel confused about how we feel. This manifests as a tension in the body.
Discomfort has a physiology.
The lump in the throat that seems to prevent us from speaking up.
The knots in the stomach.
The stuck feeling in the lower back or chest.
It might feel painful at times. But nobody promised growth without pain.
Discomfort is necessary. It helps us evolve and grow.
Uncomfortable vs Unsafe
Uncomfortable is not the same as unsafe.
If you believe your physical safety is at risk, you need to do whatever is necessary to get yourself to safety.
Using Discomfort to Grow
Assuming, however, that you are merely uncomfortable, then use that discomfort to help you grow.
- What, specifically, is causing your discomfort?
- What meaning are you giving the situation or circumstances?
- What are your inner voices saying to you?
- Where is the discomfort sitting in your body?
The more you can lean into and examine your discomfort, the more you can learn from it. That will help you grow. And it will prevent you from repeatedly being in the same uncomfortable situation.