The Loneliness of Suffering in Silence
suf·fer·ing noun the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.
We all have become pretty darn good at hiding our suffering.
In vulnerable and authentic conversations, I hear people say:
Well…everyone seems to have it all together.
Why am I still struggling? Others seems to get over challenges quicker than I do.
I am the exception to grace, forgiveness and peace.
I can’t talk about my loneliness. No one will understand because I have so many blessings in my life, I will just seem selfish.
I am tired of trying again and again and nothing seems to work to help me feel better.
It only makes me feel worse worrying the people around me – it is better to just keep my pain to myself.
If I really told people about why I am hurting, I would lose my job, my family, my friends. No one at church would talk with me anymore.
I do not have the resources to get help. I need to just figure this out on my own.
I do not think people want to hear the pain. It seems everyone wants to fix me instead of understand me.
Too many people think mental health struggles are my fault. If I could do something to stop feeling this way, I would! I have tried!
Story shame disconnects, blames and fuels fear beyond its protective origins.
Shame wins when you stay silent about your pain. And shame also wins when you shrink from the messiness of entering into another’s story of struggle because of judgement, blame and fear.
I made a vow to myself when I was in high school to do everything I could to make sure people did not suffer in silence like I did during my teen years and beyond.
The mentors, friends and professional in my life were anchors as I navigated figuring out how to adult in a way that made sense to me and was sustainable.
Eventually studying why people struggle helped me develop a deeper understanding of my own story, my brain and the spiritual aspect of suffering which eventually led me to my current professional passion as a therapist.
But even greater is the epidemic of loneliness. This is the kind of loneliness that is not based on whether you have people around you but more about whether you feel seen, heard and understood.
The kind of loneliness I am talking about is a deficit of social connection – which may seem ridiculous to those who say we are more connected then ever in this era of social media. But what is presented on social media is often not a holistic picture of people’s lives.
This video address the connection of loneliness and social media brilliantly:
Loneliness impacts our physical body and our souls. It is a biological warning sign there is a threat to our social connection. It activates the pain triggers in our brain to inform us we are in danger.
Loneliness is different than depression but is a bedfellow with it, for sure. And shame, oh the narrative of shame, gets fueled when we are in connection deficit.
Experiencing positive connection often does not eradicate the loneliness immediately. But if steadfast in the practice of reaching out and showing up with the right support, you can begin to get your mind, body and soul to recalibrate. Genetics, temperament, history and life experiences all play a role in the impact of loneliness and suffering along with how we heal from these difficult states.
It is also risky business to be steadfast with someone struggling. Rarely are there quick fixes and it can be intense navigating how to help, when to help and when to step back.
It is scary to reach out for help. It is also scary to help someone.
Committing to help someone struggling involves uncertainty, messiness and stress.
Committing to keep trying to heal involves energy, motivation and commitment.
When judgement spikes when confronted with stories of struggle, be clear it is armor to your vulnerabilities which have been triggered by giving witness and feeling painful emotions.
“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: “Who can take away suffering without entering it?” – Henri J.M. Nouwen The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society
We desire so deeply to be seen and when we are – it can also be one of the most terrifying experiences, too.
I think there is more we can do in our communities to decrease the numbers of those suffering in silence.
We are not the ‘other’. Either we are struggling or we have come out of our time of suffering so we can support those who are in the pit of pain.
We need to cultivate in our communities permission to share struggles, regularly communicate the message to never stop trying and that showing up for help is deeply important, if not necessary.
For those feeling suicidal or who know some struggling with suicide and need support, connect with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To text for help, contact Lifeline Crisis Chat or Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., click here international support. Grief and loss resources are available here. (link http://www.griefshare.org/.)
My challenge to you is to dare to reach out this week to one person – whether to share you care about someone or to reach out for your own help.
Never underestimate a courageous act.
With gratitude –
Rebecca Bass-Ching, LMFT