Exploring Discomfort

Exploring Discomfort

We have told our children — just as our parents told us — that if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, they need only to call us, or blame us, to get out of it.

As they develop the skills and strengths to stand up for themselves and make hard choices on their own, we want them to have a safe escape route if they’re feeling pressured to engage in dangerous or unhealthy activities. We want them to practice paying attention to their discomfort, to learn how their bodies and emotions send signals that need to be heeded.

No doubt, part of the message they’re receiving is that discomfort is bad and should be dispelled.

In contrast, I’m at a point in my own development where I am practicing how not to be too hasty in dispelling discomfort. Pay attention to it, yes. Examine what is its source, yes. Explore it, yes. But make it disappear quickly? Maybe not.

In attending and examining and exploring the discomfort, I might discover that I’m in physical or emotional danger, or that my health is at risk, or simply that I’m about to (or just did…) make a stupid choice.

But just as likely is the possibility that the discomfort was initiated by entrance into new territory, unfamiliar terrain, new experience, discomfiting truth. In those cases, I’m at risk of missing out on new growth and deeper meaning if I rush to return to comfort.

So I must be deliberate in choosing to remain uncomfortable, investing in the promise of a likely positive return on that investment.

I recently heard myself say out loud, “I’m not at all comfortable, and yet I know this is the right thing to do, so let’s do it.” (I think I had to say it to believe what my subconscious already knew.)

I hope I’ll be able to help our children cultivate more nuance in understanding their own discomfort. Meantime, I’m cultivating my own commitment to exploring, instead of dispelling, my discomfort.

(Un)Comfortably yours,


  1. Gail Thompson

    That uncomfortable feeling has been my companion many times. Sometimes it does open new experiences in my life, mistakes and all. What I tried to teach my children was how when mistakes are made to recover from them. That doesn’t mean get back to where you were. It might well mean landing in a new place. The hardest part of parenting seems to me is watching your child make a mistake and letting it happen. I believe we learn more from the failure than from the success. I have also provided fall-back safety nets for my kids too and sometimes they were needed. Being safe just hasn’t always been my highest priority.

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