‘Be Quiet. Some things are better left unsaid. Stop it. Don’t talk about what’s hurting you. I suffered in silence, so should you. Talking about it only drags yourself and those around you down.’
The insensitivity of the remark stung, especially as the speaker didn’t abide by their own unsolicited advice, ever. The self-conflicting irony of their own statement escaped them completely. The speaker was well-intended, though woefully misguided. The insistence that all such expressions are destructive is neither empathetic, compassionate, healthy, nor true. Any professional counselor will affirm this with countless examples. They know the difference between healthy expression and obsession. After further conversation, it quickly became apparent that the statement was a misapplication of ‘focusing on the positive’. Still further discussion revealed that the speaker’s statement was indeed an imperative to refuse and avoid openly talking about or resolving the conflict and issues causing the pain in the first place.
If something hurts, we express our pain in many ways. However, in our post-modern, disconnected, distracted world, expressions of pain are avoided, discouraged, or exploited to the point that most of us struggle, wondering if or when we can express our pain. Worse, we wonder if anyone is willing to hear our pain as others use text messages, tweets, status updates, or silence to avoid having to be touched by others’ pain in the first place. We don’t need to broadcast our pain to the entire planet on the internet. However, we do need to express our pain intimately, one-on-one, in real, honest-to-God, face to face relationships with people we trust.
When even our most private expressions of pain are forbidden and the suppression of that expression is reinforced, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction. In our relationships, we often act as we do in our online personas, never expressing, nor acknowledging our own pain, let alone, others’ pain. We blur the lines, confusing internet rants, flamewars and/or internet branding with our very own desires and needs for authentic expression. We become unable to discern an authentic, sincere request and opportunity to listen, to vent, to understand, to resolve, and in doing so, lessen another’s pain while strengthening them and ourselves.
We become offended that someone else’s pain, rejection, hurt, frustration or loss is intruding upon our little sanctuaries of self: the screened cellphone calls, the blocked or ignored txts, emails, and voicemails, the inability to look others in the eye as they express heart- and gut-wrenching pain, the unwillingness and inability to listen, actually hearing what someone else is telling us. We constantly filter everything, only hearing what we want to hear. It’s even more offensive when the pain that is being felt and expressed by someone else trying to share with us, was caused, denied, and avoided by us in the first place.
We feel pain when we are physically or emotionally injured. We feel pain when we are falsely accused, lied to and about. We feel pain when we experience the gut-wrenching loss of a home, a job, a marriage, a friendship, a death, a relationship, a family. We feel pain when we are insulted. We feel pain when we are manipulated, misunderstood, rejected and frustrated by others deliberate avoidance. Then I remembered.
Interestingly enough, Jesus, at least the one claimed by christianity, when he was hurt, frustrated, rejected, misunderstood or angry, never hid from it, never stuffed it deeper inside, pasting a polite, phony happy face over his grief, loss, and hurt. He, as a real, live, breathing, flesh and blood man, expressed it, embraced it, felt it fully. He got angry. He rebuked not only his own disciples but those around him who caused others pain. He got frustrated. He most certainly was hurt. Most importantly, he expressed it and the desire to avoid it. No matter what he felt, he managed to express it and not do evil, nor hurt others while doing so. Jesus was a real man attested to by trained historians of his day, Josephus and Philo, neither had any motivation nor agenda to lie. He wasn’t and still isn’t what anyone expected him to be, and he expressed pain.
Men, when feeling pain, need to express it. It may not come out expressed as pain, it may be expressed as anger, frustration, annoyance, depression, isolation, silence. We need to express our pain in appropriate, healthy ways and settings. Bottling it up inside will not only destroy us, but those around us when it finally does blow us apart from the inside. If we don’t find healthy ways to express it, we will find unhealthy, destructive ways: addictions, workaholic-syndrome, isolation, or worse. We, as men, must openly & honestly face, discuss and resolve pain, whether caused by conflict or carried silently. If we don’t, it will destroy us from the inside.
There are expressions of pain in all venerated scriptures, across cultures, spirituality and time. Men and women throughout time have cried out, expressing their pain not only to the divine, but to each other. Sharing through expression eases our pain and increases our joy. We are encouraged to do so in private, safe settings, with those we trust and feel safe with.
In those moments, when emotional, spiritual, or physical pain shatters us, when we’ve lost a brother, sister, mother, friend, father, son or daughter, when we’ve been cut by lies and accusations, when the pain we feel as men, squeezes a single, silent, hot, burning tear down our cheek, whether we want it to or not – we are expressing our pain. Reach out. There are still those around you who will listen and let you share as the pain passes over and through you, leaving you to remain after the pain is gone.
If anyone tells you to keep your pain to yourself, that it’s too much of a bummer, or you’re too sensitive, or dragging them down, just remind them: ‘No one ever said that to your Jesus. It’s OK. Even Jesus Wept.’