“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
“Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…But you don’t do either.” -Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
Memories, even bittersweet ones, are better than nothing.
It seems counterintuitive that individuals may find it challenging to put an end to their mental anguish. But Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote, “People have a hard time letting go of anguish out of fear of the unknown,” encapsulates a profound insight into human nature and the complexities of our relationship with suffering. It suggests that individuals often cling to their misery because they fear what might lie beyond it. In this essay, I will explore the reasons behind this fear and the potential consequences of holding onto grief.
What is being referred to when we speak of suffering in this context is psychological suffering or mental anguish. It is essential to state that mental problems such as stress and grief have long-term consequences on physical health. Mind and body are not separate. Suffering, mental pain, and anguish all lead to heightened blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, addiction, and more.
Suffering, in its various forms, can become deeply ingrained in our lives. It may arise from past traumas, unresolved conflicts, or ongoing challenges. Despite the pain it causes, suffering can provide a sense of familiarity and security. It becomes a known and predictable state, offering a certain level of comfort even in discomfort. The fear of the unknown arises when individuals contemplate letting go of this familiar suffering and stepping into uncharted territory.
One reason people fear the unknown is the uncertainty it brings. Letting go of suffering means venturing into unfamiliar emotional, mental, or physical spaces. It requires confronting the possibility of change, which can be unsettling and anxiety-inducing. The fear of what might come after letting go can lead individuals to cling to their suffering to avoid uncertainties and potential challenges.
Another reason people struggle to let go of suffering is the fear of losing their identity. Grief can become intertwined with one’s sense of self, shaping their beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. It can become a defining characteristic, providing a sense of purpose or validation. Letting go of suffering may raise questions about who one is without it, leaving individuals feeling lost or unsure of their identity. This fear can create a barrier to embracing healing and growth.
Growing up in an environment where suffering was the norm, a person may have internalized the belief that their worthiness and value are tied to their ability to endure pain. It creates a subconscious attachment to suffering, making it difficult to let go of familiar patterns and embrace a life free from constant struggle.
Feelings of guilt are another factor connected to suffering. Children quickly assume they are why their family is engaged in conflict. Childhood guilty thoughts and feelings are easily carried into adulthood. When that happens, the individual is ready to take the blame for every negative outcome imaginable.
It is common for people who suffer to change out of fear of the unknown. That can stem from a need for more trust in oneself or the change process. Feeling apprehensive about what lies beyond suffering is natural, especially when one has become accustomed to its presence. Doubts about one’s ability to cope with new circumstances or fears of making the wrong choices can contribute to resistance to letting go. This fear can keep individuals trapped in a cycle of suffering, preventing them from exploring the possibilities of a life free from pain.
However, holding onto suffering out of fear of the unknown can have detrimental consequences. It can perpetuate a cycle of unhappiness, hinder personal growth, and limit one’s potential for fulfillment. By clinging to suffering, individuals deny themselves the opportunity to heal, learn, and discover alternative paths toward well-being.
Overcoming the fear of the unknown requires courage, self-compassion, and a willingness to embrace change. It involves acknowledging the discomfort and uncertainties that may arise and recognizing the potential for growth and transformation. Seeking support from trusted individuals, such as therapists, friends, or support groups, can provide guidance and encouragement during this process.
In conclusion, the quotes above highlight the human tendency to endure suffering because of the fear of the unknown. It sheds light on the complexities of our relationship with pain and the challenges we face when contemplating letting go. By understanding the reasons behind this fear and the potential consequences of holding onto suffering, individuals can cultivate the courage and resilience needed to embrace healing and move towards a life free from unnecessary pain.