While some kinds of suffering are inevitable, other kinds are self-created. We explored, for instance, how the refusal to accept suffering as a natural part of life can lead to viewing oneself as a perpetual victim and blaming others for our problems--a surefire recipe for a miserable life.
But we also add to our own suffering in other ways. All too often we perpetuate our pain, keep it alive, by replaying our hurts over and over again in our minds, magnifying our injuries in the process. We repeat our painful memories with the unconscious wish perhaps that somehow it will change the situation--but it never does. Of course, sometimes this endless recounting of our woes can serve a limited purpose; it can add drama and a certain excitement to our lives or elicit attention and sympathy from others. But this seems like a poor trade-off for the unhappiness we continue to endure.
In speaking about how we add to our own suffering, the Dalai Lama explained, "We can see that there are many ways in which we actively contribute to our own experience of mental unrest and suffering. Although, in general, mental and emotional afflictions themselves can come naturally, often it is our own reinforcement of those negative emotions that makes them so much worse. For instance when we have anger or hatred towards a person, there is less likelihood of its developing to a very intense degree if we leave it unattended. However, if we think about the projected injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep on thinking about them over and over, then that feeds the hatred. It makes the hatred very powerful and intense. Of course, the same can apply to when we have an attachment towards a particular person; we can feed that by thinking how beautiful he or she is, and as we keep thinking about the projected qualities that we see in the person, the attachment becomes more and more intense. But this shows how through constant familiarity and thinking, we ourselves can make our emotions more intense and powerful.
"We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications.
"So I think that to a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation. For example, say that you find out that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back. If you react to this knowledge that someone is speaking badly of you, this negativity, with a feeling of hurt or anger, then you yourself destroy your own peace of mind. On the other hand, if you refrain from reacting in a negative way, let the slander pass you by as if it were a silent wind passing behind your ears, you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt, that feeling of agony. So, although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation."
"We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. . ." With these words, the Dalai Lama recognizes the origin of many of the day-to-day aggravations that can add up to be a major source of suffering. Therapists sometimes call this process personalizing our pain--the tendency to narrow our psychological field of vision by interpreting or misinterpreting everything that occurs in terms of its impact on us.