Consider the amount of stress and pain a child experiences in their first decade of life…
Before even being born, life is a warm hot tub, never cold, always soothed by the comforting sound of mom’s heartbeat, never hungry, never thirsty, never hurt. All of a sudden, stress, pain! We are born into a new world being squeezed through an opening that if it isn’t a miscalculation by the engineering department, then we figure it must be designed purposefully to shape us for our next life. If the trip wasn’t tough enough, then we enter a world which is bright, noisy, cold, breezy, plastic, metal, and hard. But there is no time to claim being a victim of a harrowing snatch and grab, because we are quickly returned to mom, to mom’s soothing heartbeat, and wonderful new experiences… mom has a soothing smell, and mom hugs, kisses, and rocks us… something that we would never have experienced if we remained in the hot tub.
Not long after, stress, pain! Life is no longer lived in a soft warm blanket hugged by mom, its on the floor, having to figure out how to move this bowling ball of a head to explore the world, only to have that bowling ball get banged up. Yet toddlers are constantly encouraged, picked up and cuddled, have boo-boos kissed, see ‘owies’ disappear behind bandaids, and with endless encouragement learn to sit, to crawl, to stand, to walk, to run and jump. Mom and dad applaud, celebrate, lift us up and throw us up in the air each time we do almost anything. Every achievement is made into a party, and every party deadens the memories of falling, of scraped knees, of hurts, freeing us from the fear of exploring the new. Again, these are new experiences that would not have occurred if we refused to overcome what appeared to be an impossibility.
Not long after, stress, pain! Life isn’t lived day-in day-out with mom and dad, we are packed up and sent off to live out our days in some strange brown building, where we have to stand in line with others our size, and someone who looks like mom or dad, but isn’t takes us away from them. We are taken away from mom and dad and into the building. Life in the brown building is intimidating. The other ones our size want the toys we play with, the crayon we colour with, and there seems to be some sort of protocol for getting along with those others but it takes us a long while to figure it all out. Cooperating seems an impossible task to be expected of anyone. All the while, those tall people – who aren’t mom and dad – reward us with stickers, and stars, and by calling out our names which gives us an new and interesting feeling inside. Recognition deadens the memories of the errors and mistakes we have made, freeing us to learn. Again, new experiences that we would not have had the joy of overcoming, if we refused to engage all the stress and pain life was throwing at us.
I could go on, with the stress and pain of leaving elementary school ending back at the bottom of the pyramid in high school, the stress of not fitting in, of being bullied, of our first crush, and then our first crush ending, but the pattern should be obvious… it is by going through stress and pain that we pop out on the other side with experience, after failed attempts and lessons learned, with wisdom, with new relationships, with new skills that allow us to move up to the next level, the next grade, the next stage in life. All the while, what looks like it was sent to defeat us, to overwhelm us, to drown us, to push us into submission, was actually intended and designed to challenge us to grow, to become, to climb higher so that we could see farther, and rise to a new level of potential.
If this decade of stress and pain was narrated with difference experiences in a sort of life story, then I am certain that it could be made into a moving motion picture which could leave the audience depressed if the focus was placed on the volume of stress and pain the protagonist experienced. If the focus is placed instead on the overcoming, the progress, then the audience leaves the movie moved, influenced, inspired to take on the stresses and pains in their own life and decide to challenge their beliefs, their narratives of what they can and cannot, what they should and shouldn’t, what is possible and if there truly is anything that is impossible.
At no point in life do we cycle through as much change as children in the first decade of life. At the end of this decade, somewhere in the middle of the next, we should be experts in change. As children our lives move quickly across stages, from babies to toddlers, to children, to tweens, to teens. With each progression, children experience the Kubler-Ross cycle of change, of grief, of death, where a former life comes to end, yet a new more abundant life calls out to be explored. The setup should be clear… we are being trained to experience stress and pain, not avoid it or try to escape from it. We are trained in the first decade or two in life to take on challenges, even challenges that seemed impossible, challenges that were overwhelming, we are prepared to explore, discover and become who we were designed to be.
Homer Simpson and the change curve: denial, anger, fear, bargaining, acceptance…
So what happens when parents deny their children the full range of stress and pain of growing up? What happens when children are not allowed to be children… allowed to make error after error, to fail, to make mistakes. What happens when we fail to teach and model a life of challenge and progress?
I believe that stress and pain avoidance, the avoiding of challenges, the avoiding of growth is what leads to a life of disease: physical, mental and emotional. We keep looking externally for our sources of impairment, of dysfunction, of illness, but what if failing to grow, failing to go through, failing to deal with why we run away when challenges arises is the underlying source of our dis-ease?