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My Struggle to Sit With Discomfort

Duncan Riach
7 min readJan 23, 2022

I have a memory of being a baby and crying in my crib, wanting, needing to be comforted by my mum. Perhaps I had woken from a nightmare. I cried and cried, getting louder and louder. Somehow, I knew she could hear me, but she was not coming. I don’t know why she didn’t come, and it doesn’t matter for this story.

I amped-up the cries, making them increasingly extreme, demonstrating my distress, asking for help in the only way I knew how. Eventually, exhausted, I self-witnessed the crying and saw how pointless it was, how helpless I was. I began to feel ashamed of my behavior. I actually felt myself forming the shame, the embarrassment for what I had done. That was the resolution.

I had asked for something that clearly I did not deserve. I had asked and I had insisted that I have something and there was no reflection in response, not even “I’m right out here, and I know you’re upset, but I can’t help you right now.”

Looking back on it, I can see how much that was a foundation for many of my later struggles in life. Back then, I stopped asking for what I wanted. I only took what was freely given to me (amazingly, I spiritualized that). I have had to gradually dispel that shame and to recognize that it’s okay to ask for what I want; it’s actually critical for my wellbeing.

Sometimes, I’m so focused on being a good person that it leads to me acting like a shitty person.

A recurring pattern I’ve noticed in my adult relationship with my mother is that I sometimes bring my distress to her, implicitly expecting her to simply witness and validate my distress, “Ah, you’re so distressed.” That’s all I need.

What usually happens is one of three other responses: (1) if I express any anger, she completely ignores my distress, (2) she minimizes the apparent source of my distress, suggesting that I should not be distressed, or (3) she tries to either fix the problem or suggests a fix for the problem. All I want or need is for my concern or distress to be heard, validated, witnessed, and allowed.

It’s taken me decades of therapy, meditation, and self-reflection to be able to even look at this situation, to notice it and to continue to pay attention to its associated…

Duncan Riach

Top Writer. Self-Revealing. Mental Health. Success. Fulfillment. Flow. MS Engineering/Technology. PhD Psychology.