It can be hard to handle alone

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

My marriage failed. At some point near the end, I began to put together my narrative. I was assembling a timeline of events and connecting dots that I hadn’t before. Looking at the big picture helped me realize that leaving was the best choice.

But it was also a huge burden.

Suddenly I was carrying this heavy narrative, this story of pain and hurt, and I was doing it alone.

I had to change that. I had to share it. I needed someone to feel it with me. I needed someone to hurt like I hurt, hearing the story, and tell me how much it hurt. To acknowledge that it was bad.

I wanted my pain shared, understood, and validated.

You’ve been there before too. Maybe you’ve had a divorce. Maybe two. Or maybe a breakup that was just as bad.

Or a job loss. An accident. A natural disaster. A death in the family.

When you go through these things, there’s value in community. Your friends all take you out after the breakup or layoff. You band together with neighbors after the disaster. You mourn together at the funeral of a loved one.

Pain is a hard thing to process alone. It can take you through some dark places. The feeling of isolation can compound the struggle.

Pain is best handled in community. Where it can be shared, understood, and validated.

Here’s how.

You share someone’s pain through empathy. It’s a kind of emotional mind-reading that allows you to feel what someone else is feeling. You won’t feel it like they do, and it can be something of an acquired skill, but it’s an important part of any emotional relationship. That’s step one.

Understanding goes beyond what someone is feeling, and into the why. Understanding is feeling the hurt, hearing the cause, and notably reflecting this back to them. You want them to know that you felt and you heard. That’s step two.

And finally, validating is confirming that you’re having the same experience. You’ve felt what they’re feeling, you’ve related to what they’re saying, putting yourself in that same situation, and you agree that it hurts. That’s step three.

After my divorce, I wanted to share my story, look into someone’s eyes, see that it made them feel something, and hear “damn, that sucks”. That’s all.

But I didn’t get that.

Some people don’t have that kind of connection. Nobody that will sit with them in that pain and share it. Nobody that will reflect it or validate it.

Or they don’t know how to share it in the first place. Some people don’t know how to express pain in a healthy way.

Others are just alone.

You can deal with an amount of pain on your own. I did. But I’d had a strong foundation of friends, family, and support for most of my life prior. And it was still a struggle.

Some people don’t have that. They just have the pain.

They still want to share it.

There’s two ways that can happen. The first is by invitation. This is what you do with friends, family, even acquaintances or strangers if you’re desperate enough. You make an emotional bid, make yourself vulnerable, reveal a little bit of your wounds to see if anyone will take a step towards it.

Hopefully they do.

The other way to share pain is by force. This is often how pain comes out when you can’t share it consensually. Or when you don’t.

You lash out at your kids. You get snippy with the barista. You find yourself sitting in your car yelling at the radio because it’s playing that one song again. Or maybe, finally, you put your fist through the drywall.

Or maybe you go out into a public place looking for someone to hurt. Or worse.

Pain needs resolution. Sometimes you can handle it on your own. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you can share it. Sometimes you have a need to share it. Sometimes you share it when you don’t mean to. Or you completely mean to, but you’re not proud of it.

As someone who feels pain, you can improve how you handle it. You can work on emotional strength. You can build a network of people that will share your pain. You can learn how to better resolve pain, on your own or with help.

As someone who shares a world with people in pain, you can look for those emotional bids, those invitations to share. Much better that they share it with you, on your terms, prepared, than for them to lash out; to force their pain on someone else who didn’t volunteer for it. Someone who wasn’t prepared.

You can’t always be that person. You don’t have to be. But when you have the strength, when you feel safe and ready, look for those signs. Be a friend, if only for a moment. Tell someone “damn, that sucks”.

It might be all they’re waiting to hear.

Observationalist. Armchair psychologist. Writer-in-progress.

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