Coping with Pain (The ironic strategy)


Why are we so often alone in our pain?


There is a terrible irony in the typical human’s response to pain.

Emotional, physical, or mental suffering is most often considered personal, or about one’s self, and so it is dealt with on one’s own.

A suffering person, ready to divulge their pain, may say, “This is hard to say out loud,” or “This is difficult to share with people I don’t know that well.” The pain has been internalized, and taken in, stewed.

We all do it. But now I ask “why?” Habit maybe, yet we do terrible jobs of healing ourselves. Our wounds fester and putrefy.

Outside perspectives, and the gracious love of community offer healing we can never find alone.

I wonder if the broken-ness of this world makes us retract. Maybe a flight/flight instinct is at first to simply be self-preservative. In reality, we are not alone, our pain is not unique. But, the shock, and upset sends us into hiding, or a kind of “hunker in the bunker” mode. The bitter stab, the disappointment, or the awfulness of suffering makes us fear, and mistrust, so we give ourselves no option but to withdraw, and go inward, taking the pain with us. It rarely finds a good exit. Then we lick our festering wounds, in solitude, even as we may curl back unnoticed, behind the dumpsters of the very hospital (a situation) that could being healing, comfort, and hope. Don’t we?

Could pain really be something different altogether, and we might just be misapprehending it far too much?

                         Could it be a way to lead us home?

                                       Is it a way to lead us into each others arms, once again?

Those who have been calmed and gained healing, find that healthy community is the surest way to growth, start invigoration, locate meaningful purpose, and heal hurts. How is it that so many of us suffer quietly, and alone, in the margins?

How very strange that together, we suffer alone! The irony is horribly striking. How awful too, I think, that we’ve also missed something big about others who suffer. We too often shoot our wounded, by condemnation or inattention. Or push them out, somehow, into further isolation. How coarse. How morbid. The God who welcomes the outcast, the wounded, the sick, and the sinner, mingles with them, pulls them in, and is close enough to touch their afflictions, and pass them bread.

Let us think of ways to come out of our own sufferings into the light and healing nature of community with others, God has provided. Beyond that, let us reach out to those isolated, or away from us–those silently hurting. Let us understand that they will try to handle their pain themselves, but they cannot. We can kindly be there, to hear them, offer friendship, and love. But most of all, with or without words, reassure them that no one suffers alone, not any more.

Do you have comments about suffering or isolation?

Please contribute.

If you take this to heart, and do something about it, please share that with us. Thank you.


7 responses to “Coping with Pain (The ironic strategy)

  1. I think that the narrative (or dialogue) of Job’s suffering gives us plenty of insight as to why people tend to “turtle” when it comes to suffering. When friends, or the community “shoot their wounded”, offer trite platitudes rather than a safe place – and are quick to judge rather than to love those who are suffering – individuals have no other option than to run for cover.

    Ideally, the community should be a place to nurture, to care for and to heal those who are hurting. Unfortunately, it often takes suffering in a person’s life to create a empathic nature. No one would wish that on anyone else. It’s bad enough to go through it.

    I don’t think that it’s the suffering individual’s responsibility to seek out community in their grief. Lauren Winner, in her book Mudhouse Sabbath, has a fantastic chapter on funerals/grieving – on how the Jewish community walks with those who have experienced loss while at the same time respecting their need for space.

    Finally – grief/loss/pain – they are all strange entities. When they are experienced, it can be like death – as though time has stopped and the world will never be the same. One of the hardest things to cope with in those moments is the fact that other people’s lives are moving on, status quo. To have the “status quo” people speak into your “rocked world” life really is a horrible feeling…and can be even more of an isolating experience than actual isolation.

    Just a couple incomplete thoughts for the day.

    • lisacolondelay

      Amy (Pritzkee) those are fascinating and helpful insights. I’m so glad you heard my plea to respond. (I need your help, as always.) The ‘status quo’ thought really hits on something in my mind too, because I think sometimes when we try to help (well-intentioned as we may be), we just don’t get it, and don’t realize how painful it can be.

  2. Lisa – I found this by reading something on Jim Palmer’s page, and I was deeply touched by it. You ask excellent questions and make insightful points. It made me think how even Jesus invited Thomas (and therefore us) to touch His own wounds for ourselves. How then do we justify hiding our own? And while true compassion does urge us to want to “fix” or “change” things for the wounded one, sometimes just being there is enough. Kind of like the little story that circulates periodically about the little boy that goes next door to the older gentleman who has just lost his wife, and when the boy’s mom asks what he did, he replies “I just helped him cry.” May we ALL help each other cry.

    Brennan Manning writes “our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we see where others weep.”

    Can I help you cry?

    • lisacolondelay

      What a powerful response, Mo. Yes. The camaraderie is huge for creating community (connectedness) that heals. So insightful. May we all take this to heart. Thank you.

  3. I think that one problem is that people don’t understand each other. When I am dealing with a problem because of my son’s disabilities, many well meaning people just miss the mark. Or they are full of “solutions” without really understanding. So the withdraw as a defense starts and then people either don’t see the need anymore or they think they gave it their best and you didn’t really want help. It was the same when I had marriage problems and with dealing with my wife’s cancer diagnosis.

    In all of these situations, either side can stop the destructive circle by communicating rather than assuming.

    The bottom line is that we have a culture that was founded on individuality and self sufficiency. That leaves little room for asking for or receiving help. As a result, we now are losing the ability to do this – so we suffer alone. What we do not use, we lose. And few people use communicating needs and giving and receiving help. So we are losing the ability.

    • lisacolondelay

      I really agree with our cultural context playing into our perpetual isolation/suffering, Chuck. Communication does open doors. Starting dialogue, opening up with our own needs, and sharing, can lessen the separation, or create paths to community.

      Also money (enough to get by, or help via government sponsorship) enables us too. We can get along, we get by, in a certain sense. We may feel we don’t need others, absolutely, that or others don’t need us. But are we progressing to healing? Are we growing? I doubt it. So, we must press on, regardless of our situations to relate as we were meant to.

  4. One other factor comes into play for the disabled. Kids are taught not to stare. That turns into ignoring or turning away from those in need. I was one of those people in a wheelchair and I know that feeling of invisibility. Some people go so far as to ignore you in a line and then claum they did not see you as they cut around the 350 pound, 6 wheel vehicle that acts as your legs.

    I was happier with the parents that let their kids stare and even ask questions. Those are the ones that were allowed to treat me as a peerson.

    Too often we look away when we should stare – and even maybe ask questions.