The sharing of pain is problematic. When we get anxious or upset, there is a wealth of considerations to take into account before we can decide how to act, and what to communicate.
Here are a few of the factors we all have to take into account before we share difficulties.
THE WELFARE OF THE HEARER
Research into disclosure suggests that many people avoid sharing their suffering because they fear for the welfare of the person listening. We weigh up whether we think the listener has the capacity to hear our story. If we guess they don’t, then we don’t share.
THE WELFARE OF THE SPEAKER
Another key factor in the avoidance of sharing pain, is the fear that it will make things worse. Speaking out can feel like opening up a wound. Just as one does not feel inclined to unbandage a raw wound, so someone suffering psychological pain can feel extraordinarily timid about ‘going there’.
THE RAWNESS OF THE EMOTION
If the emotion being experienced is particularly raw, the sufferer may also have great difficulty in finding the words to express the pain. Emotion can be quite animalistic, but also quite complex, and language is often better later on, when there has been some time to digest things.
Those suffering raw emotion may feel a strong urge to express themselves, but an even stronger urge to keep themselves wrapped up, because everything feels so out of control and incomprehensible.
OUR ABILITY TO CONTROL THE SITUATION
When a situation feels beyond our control, we may feel less safe, and therefore less inclined to share how we feel. Especially if those we know have a history of taking control from us, we may choose to stay quiet in order to retain control of our lives. We may need to feel extremely safe and secure before we decide to put expression to what is going on inside.
OUR OPTIMISM OR PESSIMISM RE THE OUTCOME
Finally, if we feel pessimistic about the likelihood of being listened to, or being helped, we may make a calculated decision to keep silent, soldier on, and try to manage things ourselves. For example, if a child grows up in a family where they experience hostility or indifference when they try to share, then they may judge there to be a low probability of a good outcome. Conversely, if someone has plenty of experience of a reliable cycle of expressing distress, and then receiving something that feels like help, then their internal calculator will be more optimistic, and likely to share.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR CARERS, FRIENDS AND COUNSELLORS
Those in a position of responsibility to help others need to keep the above points in mind.
Those who choose not to share are often making a logical decision, based on their past experience, or a reasonable assessment of outcomes. We should try to avoid judging people negatively just because they ‘keep it in’, or maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’. It may not be a sign of emotional deficiency… indeed, it may be a sign of emotional sensitivity and intelligence.
FIVE THINGS WE CAN DO IF WE ARE LISTENERS
Here are five things we may be able to do to help those in pain.
Ensure that we ourselves have the capacity to be open to others’ pain without flinching or avoiding
Respect the judgement of the sufferer as to when the time may be right to safely disclose
Allow plenty of time, and sometimes a break from the rawness – perhaps a touch of humour, or a brief distraction
Provide a safe, easy-to-manage environment in which the speaker might feel secure sharing if they want to
Be optimistic, receptive and positive in the small things, and trust the speaker to know when it may be right to trust you with bigger things
When someone is in psychological pain, they can be reasonably reluctant to share that pain.
They may be considering everyone’s welfare, and trying to keep the situation manageable, none of which may involve sharing right now.
By staying steady and open, but respecting the sufferer’s judgement, we have the best chance of being of emotional help. We can become skilled at providing a welcoming, secure atmosphere. We can also be patient, yet optimistic, ready for when a sufferer may judge that the time is right.