Pretending You Weren't Hurt by Katey Schormann
“You couldn’t heal because you kept pretending you weren’t hurt.”
Denial is a defense mechanism that serves to protect us from fully experiencing painful emotions. We often avoid admitting to ourselves and others that we are struggling. Internalizing these feelings does not make them go away. The popular trope from 12-step programs of “The first step is admitting you have a problem” applies to any journey toward recovery and healing. Strength and resilience are revered traits, and it is common to feel like we must maintain a front for the comfort of others, but by masquerading as the unyielding person we feel we should be, we are denying ourselves the ability to heal.
We wouldn’t be told to ignore an open wound that requires stitches or be encouraged to ignore a suspicious mole, but often, when we open up to people about an emotional struggle, we are given pep talks like “You’ll get over it.” or “Others have it worse.” At best this unwarranted advice is ineffective, and at worst, can cause us to return to stifling our emotional needs. In the same way, we’d accept the limitations of a physical injury and give ourselves time to recover, it is reasonable to give ourselves the care and time to heal from emotional pain. When we are recovering from an injury or heading home after a surgery, we’re given an informational sheet that outlines the importance of rest, activities we should avoid, and the exercises we need to heal properly. Emotional pain and its healing process isn’t so straight forward, but it is equally as important.
Some things to remember when you sense you are hurting:
1. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is not a weakness. Everyone will experience emotional pain in their lives, and facing it is a sign of significant strength.
2. Repressing emotional pain can lead to physical ailments, like tight muscles, headaches, weight gain, and sleep issues. It can also spread into other aspects of our lives like work, and relationships.
3. Allowing yourself to feel the negative emotions and work through them is empowering and can make you a more resilient person. You learn from your experience and will come out on the other side that much wiser.
4. The stigma against mental health is unjustified. 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness, and that number only represents those willing to admit it.
5. Though emotional pain is not identifiable through a blood test or something we can see with our eyes, it is still very real and should be treated as such.
And some ways you can get help:
1. Speak with a professional in the mental health field. Your primary care doctor or insurance company can give you a list of appropriate resources in your area.
2. Open up to a trusted friend. More people than we think have struggled with emotional issues as well. Sometimes just having someone to listen to us can make a world of difference.
3. Peer support groups, like the CHAN Project’s healing and wellness circles, offer a place to express ourselves and help guide each other on our journey.
Katey is a former intern with the CHAN Project, who provided valuable time working with the team on our Grief Circles, content copy, and was part of our Media Design team. We hope you've enjoyed hearing her point of view and taking in her wisdom over these past few blog posts. Thank you for reading.