“Success makes me uncomfortable. For years I’ve been telling my family and myself that my life goal is to be a successful trader. But, the truth is that the moment I get too close to my goal, I sabotage my trading so that I can feel comfortable again. And the part that scares me the most is that the pain does not put me off. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I’d have to say that I feel comfort in the pain.”
This story was related to me recently by a trader named Joe. If Joe were the only trader who found comfort in pain, it would be an interesting anecdote. However, far too many traders feel the same internal conflict that Joe feels as soon as he begins to approach the feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction. Suddenly, he is drawn to the darker side of his life, the place that feels “right” to him.
One of the most powerful foes a trader must face is his own comfort in pain. What feels comfortable and secure can also be the one thing a trader must avoid. Since the natural human tendency is to go toward comfort and away from discomfort, this attraction to the feeling of pain presents a trader with a great conflict: Should he be uncomfortable by avoiding the thing (pain) that makes him feel comfort or should he feel comfort by adhering to the things that brings him pain?
As Mr. Spock, the half-Vulcan/half-human First Officer on the starship Enterprise, would say, it is not logical that an individual would choose pain over more positive experiences. However, this choice has nothing to do with logic. It also has nothing to do with conscious choice. Joe’s own story is an all too familiar one. Having been raised by highly critical and rejecting parents, Joe was accustomed to the feelings of emotional pain. Anxious to please his parents, Joe’s efforts were continually met with ridicule and a lack of appreciation. When Joe won the starring role in his high school play, his parents attended the performance, but afterwards critiqued his efforts to the point of utter humiliation. His nearly straight-A report cards elicited complaints instead of praise. For Joe, no success brought the comfort of praise, and only a sense of loss and pain. He summed up his experience this way:
“Pain is my comfort zone. It’s that really familiar place with the hearth fire burning, home cooking and always impending doom. It’s the place I go to when I have a loss. It’s the place I go to when my negative emotions are stirred. It’s the place I both dread and find comfort in at the same time. My parents introduced me to this place as a child and even with them long gone, I find it impossible not to visit it when my life takes a turn for the worst.”
Like Joe, many high-achieving traders find themselves sabotaging their efforts to succeed in order to return to the place that feels the most comfortable to them. Drawn to the pain comfort zone, they create losses in order to feel that way once again. Pain for them has associations with parents, with childhood, and with times that were innocent and familiar. Feeling pain can bring Joe and other traders like him a sense of connection with people and places that are long gone but which hold a great emotional tug on their heart. So, feeling pain can almost be like looking at an album of old pictures, or watching an old home movie, or smelling a pie baking in the over that reminds you of your home and your childhood.
The lure of pain
The human brain is a three-pound chemical laboratory that creates chemical responses to various stimuli. In response to something pleasurable, we produce a set of chemicals in our brain that make us feel an intense and wonderful sensation. As a result, we want to feel that way again, and so we try to reproduce that pleasurable experience. In response to pain, we also produce a set of chemicals that produce another intense set of sensations that we normally would want to avoid ever feeling again.
So, if we are attracted to pleasure and repelled by pain, why would anyone then be drawn to pain? Not only can pain represent a familiar place that reminds one of childhood and memories long gone, pain has its own physiological/psychological appeal. As we experience pain, that same chemical reaction in our brain that floods us with intense feelings also makes us feel very much alive at the same time. While in the throes of this intense emotional and physical state, we also tend to blot out anything else that is happening at the same time.
Anyone who has lost a loved one through death knows that feeling of intense pain that drapes everything around you in a kind of misty gauze. You feel like you are on some kind of strange drug that simultaneously heightens and dulls your senses. You find yourself looking at the world from the outside, no longer part of what is happening, wondering at the foolishness of those around you who do not understand.
In this emotional and biochemical state of intense pain and loss, the world is a very intense and unreal place. But, it can also be a very appealing place for an individual who has difficulty feeling his own feelings. This state of intensity can actually become almost addictive. The fact that it is bio-chemically created adds to the credibility of this observation. Thus, I believe that a fair number of the traders who find comfort in pain are actually addicted to the intense feelings they experience when they are in pain. Those feelings not only feel comfortable and familiar, they also feel strangely pleasant and appealing.
For a trader to find comfort in pain is equivalent to sticking his own hand into the beehive. He is certain to get stung. The quickest way for him to go to that place is to create his own losses. A trader may feel that he simply goes to that comforting place whenever he feels pain or experiences a loss. However, unconsciously he is actually drawn to that place and will, therefore, create losses in order to experience the pain that brings him comfort.
Another way for a trader to enter the Pain Comfort Zone is through the people, places, or times that you miss from your past. If those people who are the most dear to you are also tied to extreme pain and loss, you are likely to find a way to create trading losses in order to be close to those people you miss.
Moving into a better neighborhood
If you are a trader who feels good in the Pain Comfort Zone, you need to move into a better neighborhood – a comfort zone that allows you to feel good when things are actually good and not painful. But how?
When Joe described his pain comfort zone, he used words that would normally describe a warm, pleasant, and safe place:
that really familiar place
the hearth fire burning,
me as a child
These are the very same images that Joe has attached to the feelings of pain, thereby making the experience of pain a goal rather than something to avoid. Instead of associated pain with comfort, what Joe must do is to associate pain with pain and pleasure with pleasure. Once he makes this new association, he will then move into a new comfort zone, one that is actually comfortable with having achieved success rather than loss.
Strategies for making a change
Neuro-linguistic Programming offers traders like Joe a very effective set of strategies for making a change in his patterns of behavior and thinking. This strategy will be easier and quicker with the help of a trained professional, but if a trader is committed to making the change and willing to do the work himself, it is entirely possible for him to make this transformation on his own. I worked with Joe on this process and here is what he did:
The first step for Joe to take was to recognize that he had made deep, unconscious
associations with pain that brought him comfort.
The next step was difficult because Joe had to be willing to experience the pain he
actually felt when his parents rejected him as the pain he felt. In other words, he had
tobe willing to really experience the experience.
Once he had felt the pain, he had to be willing to feel how uncomfortable it really was and conclude that he did not want to feel that way again.
Then, it the midst of those intense feelings, he then had to focus on something
thatbrought him real joy, such as taking his son out to the park and playing catchwith
him on a sunny spring day.
As he raised his feelings from pain to joy, he then intensified those feelings until they
completely filled his being. At that point, he then began to picture himself succeeding
inhis trading, making winning trades, coming home to tell his wife and son about his
success, and all the things they would then do with his success.
Now that he had made his first new association of those feelings of joy with his
tradingsuccess, he was instructed to repeat the new association over and over again
each day for a full month. Each time he brought up the feelings of joy from the picture
of him doing something that does create those pictures, he instantly transferred the
intense feeling of joy to images of his trading successfully, of his winning trades, and
ofhis happy life that results from his trading success.
It was essential in this process that Joe was willing to keep working at it until it felt perfectly natural. At first, it felt unreal and uncomfortable for him. After all, Joe had been associating pain with pleasure for a long time and his brain had a long history of accommodating this neural pathway until it was a deeply embedded groove. However, the good news is that Joe was committed to working his way out of his comfort in pain zone and he is now trading at an entirely new level of success. He loves feeling joy in his success and in building his new dream house for his family. Occasionally, he has a relapse, which is to be expected. However, when he does, he calls me and we complete visualization on the phone that allows him to jump back into his new comfort zone.
Traders who have experienced pain in their childhood on a regular basis are at great risk for finding comfort in pain. This association of pain with comfort makes a trader far more likely to sabotage his trading in order to put him into his comfort zone. Any other loss or pain in his life will bring him into this zone and allow him to stay in it, unwilling to bring success into his life with the discomfort it would create in his world. The best way out of this negative situation for a trader is to either work on his own or with a trained professional to break the association he has with pain, making the experience of pain to be painful and linking success with comfort, instead. Once a trader has been able to make the change in his associations with pain, like Joe, he will discover that the world of successful trading truly opens up for him for the first time. Copyright 2006