Stop Discounting Your Pain
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s recent testimony detailing the sexual assault she experienced when she was fifteen, as well as millions of other #MeToo stories, are empowering people, especially women to speak their truth, the truth of what happened to them and how it has changed them.
The phrase, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger is often used to help us feel better about the traumas we have experienced as though the fact of surviving a trauma automatically makes you stronger
I know in my life, some of the greatest growth has come from my most challenging experiences. In the early 1980’s, I was raped by an ex-boyfriend and never reported it, because I knew it was highly likely I would be victim shamed. I knew that either I would not be believed, or they would say something like, “You already had sex with him in time you dated him, so what’s the problem?” Like millions, if not billions of women around the globe, I can say, #MeToo. Additionally, trauma, early childhood trauma, came in the form of my alcoholic mother who broke into fiery rages in which she attacked me, and my father, and tore the house apart. I, unfortunately, have had a lifelong and far too intimate relationship with trauma. I know, too well, how trauma affects us throughout our lifetime. And why people, especially women, don’t speak out.
It wasn’t these traumatic experiences themselves that made me stronger, it was the work I did to recover from them. The ways I had to patch myself back together. I used to joke that with all I’ve been through, I should be able to bench press a Buick. Maybe these negative events make us stronger or maybe it is in gathering our resources to survive that we find out how strong we are.
If we use that phrase to brush off what happened to us and just say, “It’s okay, what happened, made me stronger”, we discount the weight of the experience by leaving out the rest. What happened should never have happened (especially if it was at the hands of someone who had power or influence over you). It was painful, traumatic and it was wrong, immoral, possibly illegal and definitely unjust. Perhaps others should be, or could be, held accountable – only you can decide.
I deal with helping people recover from trauma that gets locked into their bodies, into their cells – their biology. Whatever trauma they have endured – whether someone abused them (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or financially, discounting what happened is not helpful. Trauma comes in many forms: abuse, horrific accidents, wartime PTSD experiences. Unfortunately, we can have multiple experiences in a lifetime.
One of the psyche’s way of coping with things that are TOO BIG can be to bypass acknowledging the pain of the experience and moving on to “I’m okay now.” It is normal to do this. We are taught this. And it is part of our survival mechanisms. If you’ve ever fallen and sprained an ankle or a wrist you may have noticed saying, “I’m okay.” Only to find an hour later that you really aren’t.
Ignoring the darker parts of the experience, does not make it vanish. Trauma is locked in our cells, waiting to rear its ugly head, affecting us later in life. Donna Jackson Nakazawa in her book Childhood Disrupted discusses how ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) affect our biology, and can cause autoimmune disease and other illnesses later on in life. She also offers suggestions on how to mitigate its effects, even years later.
If you are dealing with trauma that is recent or from years ago, give yourself permission to acknowledge that what happened was WRONG. It should not have happened to you, or anyone.
Yet it did.
And, yes, you grew from it.
Yes, it made you a better person.
Becoming stronger and acknowledging the pain, are not exclusive of the other, you can do both.
Give yourself permission to own what happened – All of It, not just the gifts, not just the growth and lessons, but all of it.
Acknowledge, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There is a part of you deep inside that really needs this acknowledgment.
That pain is still there.
I see it coming up with clients and I have to tell them again and again, “Stop discounting your pain.” It needs to be heard, and held.
It needs a voice.
Don’t brush it off.
Listen to it.
Give it what you couldn’t before.
Love it unconditionally, like you would a newborn.
In being able to say—it hurts.
We open the doors to honesty and healing.