The Parable of the Rattle Snake Bite – The Pain Paradox.
Sometimes the source of the psychological pain is actually found in the persons attempt to avoid or reject the event/trauma. As a victim, we don’t want to accept what has happened. One way to understand this concept is to compare traumatic events to a rattle snake bite. When a person gets bitten by a rattle snake, after the initial sting, the pain comes from the venom or poison as it destroys the victims tissue. It’s just what the poison does – destroys. Unlike the cowboy movies the poison isn’t sucked out by the ER doc. The ER doc injects the victim with anti-venom. The Anti-venom is like an antibody which helps the body block the venoms ability to destroy. Notice that the poison doesn’t go away, the poison is still there in the persons body, but the damaging effects are destroyed as the body creates venom blockers. The snake bite of life can come in the form of a tragedy, or serious disappointment. The loss of a loved one, physical injury or disease, etc. When an event like that happens it’s as if you have been bitten by a rattle snake. As long as that person focuses on what he/she can’t have, the poison destroys. This is where the anti-venom is introduced. The anti-venom of trauma is acceptance and perspective. Instead of trying to fight a losing battle, the new approach is to accept the event. Accepting the event isn’t some Pollyanna-fairy tale- unicorn ride that says that what happens is fine. It’s saying, “Since this has happened, and there is nothing I can do about it. I am going to find a way to live life with meaning, purpose and joy.” Then you go to the white board of life and start exploring how you can live life with joy given that the trauma has happened. So, if I broke my back and am now paralyzed, I might try getting into graphic art, or photography instead of competing in extreme sports. If I lost my brother in an auto accident, I’m going to be a better brother and I’m going to keep him alive in my life. I’m going to turn to my faith and remind myself that death isn’t the end. I’m going to look toward the time when we can be together again. The anti-venom of perspective doesn’t end at this point. Creating Value and Meaning are the next steps. Value and meaning means I’m going to take what I’ve learned to improve my life and improve the life of others. Now the trauma has value and meaning. And just like with a snake bite victim. The person who was bitten by the snake actually becomes stronger and more impervious to the poisons of a snake bite. So too, the victim of trauma becomes stronger and more impervious to the disappointments and losses of life.
These ideas are foreign to most people. Adapting to these ideas is not easy. It is why I delayed sharing this because there is a lot of psychological momentum in certain ways of thinking. This new approach is a completely different way of thinking that takes disappointing and traumatic events and puts them in a context of value and meaning. As people on this planet, we aren’t going to get through life without these traumas and disappointments, (and there will be some who get more than their share). The good news is that happiness can exist even in trauma when we embrace reality and find value and meaning from these events in life that are designed to make us stronger.
Emil is the author of the new book “You Can Turn Conflict Into Closeness” endorsed by Dr. John Gottman the worlds most renown expert in relationships. He is in private practice in Farmington Utah and is a frequent presenter, radio, and tv expert. You can learn more about Emil Harker at