Why pretending your pain will go away doesn't work

Esther Fleece

March 23, 2017 | 3 minute read

When hard realities hit, it can often feel easier to minimize the pain. It doesn’t make it go away, of course, but we often tell ourselves that if we pretend the pain isn’t there, it might just fade away.

The truth is, most of us function so regularly this way that we don’t question it. We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right? We don’t want to bother anyone with our struggles. Or we compare our brokenness to that of others by telling ourselves our experiences “weren’t that bad.” Sometimes we even joke about our difficulties, subconsciously telling ourselves that if we can just turn our pain into a punch line, we might have a fighting chance.

We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right?

Our coping mechanisms seem useful in the moment, but relying on them today stunts our growth in the long run.

I minimized my own brokenness for a long time.

At the very start of my journey into lament, one of my professors called what I experienced “childhood abuse.” I was in my early twenties, and while I would have said I had a broken past, I would have never considered myself an abused child. She told me very directly: you were physically and emotionally abused.

This not only caught me off guard but also offended me. I felt she was being dramatic. I had done some volunteering in the inner city and saw kids who were physically abused far worse than I ever was. Surely their category of abuse was more significant than mine. Surely they would need to lament, but not me. Mine wasn’t that bad.

I thought about my friends who I thought carried much worse emotional baggage than I did. My parents had rejected and abandoned me, yes, but wasn’t I rescued from what it could have been? What about people who never got out? These comparisons only led me to dismiss my pain, which in turn convinced me I didn’t have “appropriate” pain to lament.

It was not until this professor asked me if one of my “little sisters”— the daughters of a family that took me in when it wasn’t safe to be at home—had experienced the physical and emotional abuse, would I be minimizing theirs too? Would I respond with the words “at least you weren’t sexually abused”? After all, these are words I told myself on a regular basis.

“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed to my professor in my justice-loving voice. “Of course I would never ignore the abuse of a loved one.”

She asked me why it was okay that I minimized mine.

Sometimes we hear so many others-focused sermons in church that we lose the ability to know how to biblically care for ourselves. Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be. We don’t minimize our pasts, and lamenting does not mean we are dramatizing it. We are going to have to stop comparing our pain to others and learn instead to take our pain directly to God, or we simply won’t get anywhere.

 Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be. 

My abuse required a lament. Abandonment requires a lament. Divorce, mental illness, health issues, bankruptcy, loss, disappointment— they all require lament. “It’s not really a big deal” are words we will never hear out of the mouth of God. That phrase only tells me we hold ourselves to higher expectations of ourselves in grief than God Himself does. That phrase only tells me we have not yet lamented, thus failing to get to know God in the midst of pain and eventually to let Him take away our pain.

As we progress in our relationship with God, He opens our eyes to see that while some of our coping mechanisms may have worked for a season, continuing to live out of them can prohibit us from fully knowing and experiencing Him. And if we think this doesn’t affect every relationship we are in—both personally and professionally—we have been deceived. As we suppress our ability to feel and lament, we compromise our ability to enjoy intimacy in relationships.

Do you keep people at a distance when you’re in pain?

Do you operate out of anxiety?

Do you bargain with God in your prayers?

Do you harbor resentment toward those who have hurt you? How about your desire to control?

So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments. 

So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments. And not only are we destined to repeat unhealthy patterns, but many of us minimize the pain of others or even make jokes about others or ourselves to divert our attention from the wounding process. This is a coping mechanism that cannot lead to a place of healing.

This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the second installation of a series. Read part one.

To hear Esther's inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:


(Photo source: Milada Vigerova via Unsplash.com)

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