Masking Our Pain

If you have a chronic condition such as arthritis, endometriosis, or fibromyalgia, that causes long-term pain, or you’ve had a major injury or surgery requiring a lengthy recovery, then you can empathize with how miserable it is to hurt all the time, how it wears you down.

Having to deal with chronic pain is physically and mentally exhausting.

But you may also be able to empathize with those on the other side of the table who have to listen to someone who’s always negative, talking about what’s wrong, what hurts, and how bad they feel all the time. Have you been around someone like that? Are you someone like that? I hope not because that’s exhausting for the person having to listen to it, too.

Have you noticed when there’s a buzzing mosquito, a ticking clock, a dripping faucet, or a constant beep of some kind, most people tend to react in one of two ways? Either it drives them crazy and all they can think about is making it stop, or they’re able to tune it out and they don’t even notice it’s there any more.

That’s the way I think people get when they’re around someone who’s constantly going on about how bad they feel. People can’t stand to be around someone like that for very long because it gets old to keep hearing the same complaints and consistently self-focused negativity. Or if they can’t get away, like in a work situation, then they just tune the person out. Just like those around the boy who cried “Wolf!” one too many times (does anyone even know that Aesop’s fable any more?), they no longer pay any attention, not noticing or caring what’s really going on with the person that day.

Years ago, when my fibromyalgia and depression were at their worst, if I talked about what hurt or how much I hurt, I’d either be talking about it multiple times a day or most of the day. And that was every day. My husband would politely ask me how I felt and I’d rattle off the list of body parts that hurt. Sometimes it would have been easier, and shorter, to list what didn’t hurt. I got tired of listening to myself. I realized I sounded like a broken record (does that cliché tell my age or what!) and that’s not how I wanted to be. Not that I wanted to hurt either, but I wasn’t in control of that part.

I was in control of my words, though, so I stopped complaining.

I had already learned to mask other wounds from my past, but like many hurting people, I layered on another mask. People who don’t know me can’t tell if I’m achey (or tearful, or whatever) by my facial expressions or my words and I try not to drag or mope around, although my husband can usually tell by the way my eyes look and the slight sag in my shoulders.

My answer to the stock greeting, “How are you today?” is always, “Fine. How ’bout you?” Just as is expected.

I think we all wear masks to some degree or another.

Is it just that people don’t really care about one another? Or is it that we’re all hurting in our way? Is it that we feel like we can’t help another hurting person when we don’t even know how to alleviate our own pain? Why do we put masks on?

Sometimes it’s that all the ugliness on the inside makes us feel ugly on the outside. Or it may be that we don’t want anyone else to see the burden of shame we carry from something done to us or by us. Other times it may be a defense mechanism to avoid any more pain from being inflicted. I think we often don’t like who we are, so we wonder why anyone else would, at least that’s the way it was for me.

None of us likes rejection or criticism or to feel insecure, so we put a mask on that makes others think we are more… presentable, acceptable, likeable — more like what we wish we were like.

The point is, since we all wear masks, we don’t know what that other person we meet (or work with, or talk to, or pass by) is dealing with underneath their mask. All that junk hiding under the mask can make a person withdraw or seem angry, so it’s important to keep that in mind next time we’re interacting with someone who seems rude or stuck up or snaps at us for no apparent reason. Most of the time it’s not us. It’s usually something they’re going through or dealing with in their own life.

We can help another hurting person, though, even when we’re hurting ourselves. I think it’s important to be aware and in control of our own thoughts. We should try not to take everything personally. That way we’ll be less likely to cop an attitude or respond back to the person who hasn’t gained control of their mouth yet in the same way they dealt with us. Instead, we can come from the vantage point of understanding and empathy and stay calm, polite, and friendly. Treat them with kindness and consideration, just how we’d like to be treated. After all, we’re commanded to do so. In Luke 6:27, 28, and 31 Jesus says: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you… Do to others as you would like them to do to you.”

Smile. Be willing to listen. Reach out a hand to someone who needs it. Let someone know you’re there for them when they need it or if they want it.

We live in a fallen world where no one is perfect and everyone struggles from time to time. Yet each of us is a treasured, unique creation, dearly loved by God. If only everyone in the world could accept that and live knowing that was true, this would be a different world, don’t you agree?

Let me know what you think in the comments (but be nice 😉 ).  I’m good at empathizing.










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