The first two years after I graduated from college were spent creating more and more pain for myself.

I quite literally flew away from my problems — opting for a ticket to a foreign country rather than facing my issues head-on. I thought I could leave my problems behind; boy was I wrong.

I caused myself a lot of pain I didn’t need to endure. I’m no masochist though; I just had no idea I was doing any of it.

Everyone experiences pain; it sucks. Emotional pain sucks even more. But when it unknowingly festers or is the kind you just can’t place a finger on, you’re really in for an uncontrollable emotional ride.

There’s a variety of instances in which we unintentionally cause ourselves pain. Here are the most common ways people create suffering for themselves without realizing it:

Your Expectations

Expectations are mental beliefs we create for situations, ourselves, and other people.

But these become detrimental when they are unreasonable, unattainable, ill-founded, or driving your behaviors without you noticing.

Expectations are premeditated resentments.

You aren’t able to control how a person reacts in a situation. Going into a conversation and expecting to know the outcome, will only allow room for you to feel let down. In this case, expectations are premeditated resentments.

The same goes for our own life.

If you hang on every expectation you created in high school of how our life would turn out, then you’re setting yourself up for failure if you deviate. And that’s a lot of unnecessary pain because deviation in life isn’t a bad thing.

What we once thought was best for us can, and will, change throughout our lives. That’s part of growing.

Not Reflecting On Your Past

If you aren’t learning from your mistakes, you’re repeating them. And how can you create a better life for yourself if you’re not reflecting on what happened in the past?

For several years, I had the same dating patterns:

  1. Begin a relationship with someone I wasn’t that interested in.
  2. Allow the relationship to drag on.
  3. Endure several big arguments that never resolved.
  4. Become upset when the other person finally ended it.

Without reflecting back and realizing that I was going through the same dating routine, I wouldn’t have understood that I needed to change who I dated.

I wouldn’t have been able to see that those relationships looked eerily similar.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

Reflection is a beautiful gift that human beings have the ability to do. So make sure to consider what has happened in the past to lead you to your current pains. Then consider how you can change things.

Living In The Future

Imagine: you’re in a river and have two options. 1. Swim against the current, and up the rocky rapids to try to collect fish. 2. Flow with the current, enjoy the scenery, and collect fish along the way.

I think it’s a no-brainer you’d choose the second. But a lot of people are actually living in the first scenario.

Instead of working towards goals and enjoying life along the way, they’re living for the future. Often, people are so focused on what more they can get, the next thing that will make them happy, that they let their life pass them by.

If you’re always fighting for a better future, you will feel like the present is inadequate.

Instead, try finding things in your life now that you can be grateful for. Start doing things every day that you enjoy.

Living In The Past

You can’t forsee the future and you sure as hell can’t control the past.

Ruminating thoughts occur when you incessantly think about something. Often, these thoughts create a lot of pain. You think over and over about something that hurt you or a time in life that you regret.

And though there is a lot to learn from our past, it’s not a place that is meant to be lived in. Life is happening now, in the present. What you can control lies solely in the now.

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
― Rick Warren

Getting stuck in past events is a sure-fire way to cause yourself to miss out on the joy that the present is ready to give you.

Holding On To Grudges

The only person you’re hurting by holding onto a grudge is yourself.

I’m not saying that you need to forgive everyone and be their best friend. I’m not even saying you need to speak to them ever again.

But what I am talking about is the resentment you hold on to. The kind that gets you into ruminating thoughts about how you were wronged. The feeling of knowing there is someone out there that you very much hate.

All of those feelings cause you unnecessary pain. And though you don’t need to forgive the person to their face, you owe it to yourself to not hold onto those emotions anymore.

“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.”
― Confucius

Choose to let go of what happened in the past and move on.

Safeguarding Your Emotions

It’s scary to share your emotions.

When we were young, we were taught expressing feelings was wrong.

Whether it was being hushed when we wailed or told “men don’t cry,” the notion was ingrained in our psyche.

But now that we’re adults, we can see how that thought pattern isn’t serving us. Expressing our emotions is cathartic and allows us to form deeper bonds with other people.

Vulnerability takes courage but hiding your emotions is what you should be more afraid of. Bottling up what we are feeling can cause significant detriment to our mental sanity.

Creating deeper connections with the people in your life also requires a bit of opening up. People can sense when others are interacting from a surface level place.

Instead, dare to open up. Share how you’re feeling and feel a bit of a burden lift off of you.

Being Compassionate With Everyone But Yourself

If your friend got fired from their job, how would you react? If a little kid looked in the mirror and called themselves fat, how would you respond?

Now, what if it were you in those situations? What would be your thoughts then?

We’re compassionate with our friends and family but so quick to belittle ourselves. That little voice inside our head is the voice we will hear most in our life, and most of the time, it is also the meanest.

Cultivate compassion for yourself even during your biggest mess-ups. Allow yourself space to falter and be there to show compassion when you do.

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
― Louise L. Hay

Comparing Your Life To Other People’s

Logically, it makes absolutely no sense to compare your life to other people’s.

There are so many factors that play into how a person’s life turns out; family, friends, connections, abilities, mindset, and personality are amongst them. Each of those factors is so nuanced, have so many layers, that there’s no way two people’s can ever look alike.

So how is it that comparing your life to someone else’s makes any sense?

And this irrational habit wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t cause people an extraordinary amount of pain. Feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and self-loathing often come up when people compare their lives.

Instead of comparing your life to someone else’s focusing on loving and improving your own.

You can’t become someone else, but you can become a happier you.

“Stop thinking you’re doing it all wrong. Your path doesn’t look like anybody else’s because it can’t, it shouldn’t, and it won’t.”
― Eleanor Brown

Life is a messy rollercoaster. You never know what is right around the corner. Heck, no one ever really knows what they’re doing.

But taking considering the ways we cause unnecessary pain to ourselves and changing them gets us one step closer to enjoying the ride.