Addiction to Suffering

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sufferingThere was a point in my spiritual journey where I found myself highly disturbed by the people around me. No, not the ‘regular’ people of everyday life… the angry driver, the ignorant telemarketer, the rude flight attendant.

I was annoyed by the people in the various spiritual communities I had joined.

I felt incredibly triggered, in an arena that claims to strive for healing and enlightenment, by how enshrined everyone was in their personal suffering.

In the same way Grandma peppers every conversation with a recounting of her sciatica, the members of these spiritual ‘clubs’ defined themselves by their traumas and dramas.


“Hi, I’m David. I was molested by my uncle.”

“Hi, I’m Christine. My mother died when I was 12.”

“Hi, I’m Julie. My husband has cancer.”


These are accurate representations of the kinds of conversations that take place on a regular basis. In the first few moments of meeting.

In no other place had I experienced the pervasiveness of this behavior. It shocked me anytime I witnessed a stranger pouring out their deepest darkest secrets with no warm-up.

There is something to be said for not repressing our hurts, and for feeling safe enough to share. It’s another issue to walk around with our suffering as if it were a security blanket.

Maybe it’s me, I thought. I am too private. I am too ashamed. I am too mistrusting.

Those perceptions may or may not be true. However, it always felt incomprehensible to unload a burden onto someone with whom I did not have an agreement to do so.

This level of honesty and revealing is required in the therapeutic relationships I have with my clients. And even in my closest personal relationships. But there is a clear distinction between those situations and my dealings with the general public, even if that public shares a common interest with me.

All my study, inquiry and work has led me to this idea:


We are as addicted to our suffering as we are to sugar, money, sex and power. It becomes the basis for our self-definition, and how we get the attention we so crave.


Pity is a poor, poor substitute for love.



When we unbind ourselves from the ropes of struggle and suffering, a whole new life can emerge.

One in which we honor our experiences – no matter how gruesome and painful in the moment – as the divine teachers they are.

One in which we know that who we are as divine beings is infinitely greater than anything that may have happened to us.

Where we introduce ourselves, not by the darkness of our tragedy, but by the brightness of our light.


What came through for me… “Hi, I’m Pascale. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.”


What reflects the truth of your divinity? What’s your introduction?



Resources to break the addiction:

* Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, and one of the most kick-ass human beings on our planet right now, just launched an online program around the concept of Shenpa – being hooked by suffering. They’re giving away the first lesson for free right here.

* My course, Inner Game of Success, introduces some tools that will bring awareness to your habits and reactions.

2 Comments on “Addiction to Suffering

  1.  by  Sharon Lippincott

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. You paint a picture of people I think of as having huge holes in their cups. When I meet people who come across this way as you describe, I cringe. I clam up. I flee, emotionally if not physically. I’ve done my time as a co-dependent crutch. No more!

    For more than twenty years I’ve avoided involvement with spiritual groups for just the reasons you cite. I never found one that primarily emphasized and exuded love, joy and gratitude. But I have found plenty of people like that. Blessings on your work to help heal this addiction!

    •  by  Pascale Kavanagh

      hi sharon. it’s so nice to know i’m not the only one! for so long, i could not understand my discomfort (and disgust). it’s a reaction that seems counter-intuitive…

      i send love and healing to all those in the throes of suffering, with the wish that they find the means to resolution. as you said, may they find something to seal their holes!

      deep blessings and thanks to you sharon. lovely to see you here.


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