Be Thankful for Painful Consequences

As much as they hurt, sometimes there is reason to be thankful for painful consequences.

Every action (and even inaction) has an effect. This seems pretty straight-forward, right? Yet all too often we want to avoid experiencing negative consequences for what we did or didn't do. The result of this avoidance is that we are much less likely to learn from our mistakes.

We may be able to choose our actions but we are seldom able to choose their consequences. An event that is set into motion is like a stick thrown into a river: it will go where it goes, often bumping into rocks and sometimes getting stuck but always being subjected to forces that cannot be controlled.

Many times consequences that seem negative because of the pain they bring to ourselves or others actually lead to positive growth. Imagine what would happen if a person never experienced consequences for anything. How would there be any opportunity learn to develop responsibility, judgement and self-awareness? Consequences are great teachers, although many times we are poor students. We demonstrate this every time we blame anyone or anything outside of ourselves for the ill effects of our life choices.

I'm in no way saying that truly devastating consequences stemming from a momentary lack of judgement justify whatever lesson we may happen to learn from them. News reports regularly detail tragic instances in which a seemingly minor event can lead to a devastating outcome that totally exceeds a simple "growth opportunity".  However, the fact remains that many painful results can bring sufficient motivation for even the most difficult forms of personal growth.

People who are addicted to a mood-altering substance or behavior generally hope to avoid negative consequences for their loss of control. This leads them to do things like lie, cheat, steal and blame others to protect the illusion that they are ok. It's only when these attempts to avoid responsibility fail that there is any real chance of engaging in the long and difficult task of creating a better life. The same can be said of people who have affairs, engage in domestic abuse or allow any destructive action to continue.  This is why people in such situations often look back and say that the day everything fell apart ultimately revealed itself as the day that their life began to change for the better. 

So thank goodness for consequences, the difficult task master of great personal growth.

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Bill Herring is an Atlanta psychotherapist, speaker and author.