Wednesday, March 24, 2021

33. Cause & Effect: The Key To Reduce Suffering

"I don't think a lot of people understand how important food for the mind is.  What the Practice does is help you to feel better, helps you to think different.  If you think different, you think correctly, so that means you can help yourself get the things you want.   It's really very important what you say, what you think, how often you say it." -- Tina Turner

Most of us have learned that if we are feeling bad, sad, or generally annoyed that it has to be someone else’s fault.  Our culture conditions us to blame a partner, a spouse, a family, a boss, a friend on Facebook, a stranger in traffic, or even a celebrity for how we feel.  This belief has been reinforced in politics, entertainment, and psychotherapists who ask, “How did that make you feel?”

The truth is no one has the power to make you suffer.  Ask yourself if you have at anytime said the following:

___________ makes me upset
___________ got me angry
___________ is really stressing me out right now

Now let’s take a look at what is inherent in these words: Power is being assigned to someone or something outside yourself.  This is a common practice in the United States -- for people to believe it is their duty to find ways to control the people around them so they can minimize and avoid negative emotions.  Relationships are subsequently used as a means to an end (to feel “good” or “special”) versus a genuine connection or friendship.   If you are allowing someone else’s thoughts or decisions to determine 100% of how you feel, then you’re in for a pretty bumpy ride. 

The alternative is to recognize that most of our emotions / moods/ feelings are the “effect”.  Our thoughts/ beliefs/ perceptions are the “cause.”  If we are unsatisfied with our effects, then the first place we go to change the effects are by shifting the “cause.”  On nearly all occasions, my mood changes when I identify the thoughts or the “shoulds” that are causing them. 

When I was younger I did believe it was other people’s fault when I felt bad.  I blamed my brother, my parents, teachers, authority figures, boyfriends, coworkers, friends, the government, the executives at NBC -- anyone and anything except my own thinking.  My basic stance was, “It’s not my fault I feel scared or insecure.  It’s their fault for not meeting my needs or making me feel bad.” 

In my early 30s I came to realize that was an untenable position if I ever wanted to experience any genuine empowerment or connection in my life.  Chris Bender introduced me to a book called, "Man’s Search For Meaning” which describes how a concentration camp survivor could find value and meaning even in the most extreme of violent circumstances.  I studied how icons like Tina Turner and Nelson Mandela survived intense abuse and trauma only to articulate how true freedom begins in the mind first, the situation second.  If they can take responsibility for their emotional health and wellness, then I could probably change my emotional reaction when a guy ignores me or when I’m stuck in traffic.  Changing the emotional effect is a direct result of changing the mental cause. 

How do you do this?  I wrote in more specifics the steps I use to altering unhealthy thoughts in

Absolutely Should-less and Rational Relating, most specifically challenging and changing the “should” leading to suffering.  When we recognize how conditioning impacts beliefs, and take time to think about what we’re thinking about, we begin the process of gaining agency over such thoughts. We can then recognize we can't control most of what happens in the world, but we do get a say in how we react to what's happening in the world.  I’m not saying this is an easy process.  But just like lifting physical weights, consistent mental work outs can lead to sustainable growth, change, and health. 

These tools have been especially instrumental for me during the Trump years and the COVID pandemic.  If ever there was a time to blame something or someone else for my suffering, this would have been the time to do it, and get a chorus of people to agree.  Nevertheless, it has remained important for me to be mindful about my perceptions and reactions and reduce mental anguish.  This is a compassionate decision I make for myself, as well as for the people around me.  I would not be able to work as a therapist or do the things I enjoy as a Helper, if I wasn’t actively processing and caring for my mind at the same time.

“But aren’t you just turning a blind eye to the grim realities of the world? Hate, violence, racism, domestic terrorism are on the rise.  You can’t just positively think your way out of that.”

I completely agree.  Identifying cause and effect isn’t about “just thinking good thoughts” or doing Stuart Smiley affirmations.  It is about recognizing and respecting that there is a lot of pain in the world, perhaps more today than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and I have no wish to avoid that.  Acknowledging pain means I’m human, that I’m caring, that I have a sense of right and wrong, and a heart that resonates with human experiences. 

But I continue to make a discernment between pain and suffering.  As mentioned in Lesson 42, suffering is the narrative we create about the reaction to pain.  Suffering may include, "The world is so cruel," or "No one cares about anything anymore," or "Why make connections if they're going to leave me."  As long as I indulge in suffering, I will feel the effects of hopelessness, depression, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and then act out in ways that will confirm and perpetuate these effects.  That is where I exercise choice, that is where I can change the cause in order to enjoy healthier effects. 

Much of the 50 Lessons I'm writing about in this series will continue to present tools and techniques for reducing suffering while experiencing pain.  I am very grateful for all the mentors and Helpers who have helped me comprehend these concepts, and turn 50-years-old with a much deeper ability to experience power, purpose, and pleasure.   Until then, I'll defer to Tina Turner to explain it better than I can:


Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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