“You cannot punish the pain out of people”

A friend sent me this quotation recently and I have been pondering it. Wisdom. Wisdom that calls for compassion. Compassion for people when you are uncomfortable with how they survive. Especially when you want their behavior to change, to go away.

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to spend three hours with mental health professionals on the topic of trauma and self-directed violence (SDV). It is a privilege to have people give me their time and attention, whether in person or online. It has been a challenge to teach online. I am fortunate in that many of the people who take my courses say they find them useful. That said, there has been one comment that keeps coming around often and I will improve my teaching tomorrow to address it up front.

The comment is that clinicians want specific actions to take to facilitate stopping SDV. We discuss the traumatic origins of the suffering that leads some people to find relief, even if temporary, in SDV. I teach that the principles of trauma-informed care, connection and empowerment, are the answers to the question. People turn to SDV for multiple reasons. For some, SDV is an all-purpose tool to manage the intense repercussions of trauma. One cannot simply force oneself, nor another person, to not need SDV. Interventions that are based on coercion, i.e. tying people down, might temporarily stop the behaviors of SDV, but not the need. Adding more trauma in never a successful answer.

So tomorrow I will offer a simple and very powerful answer: “You cannot punish the pain out of people.” And then the conversation moves on to how we help people understand and release their pain, and create environments that best support doing so…

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