Recently, I got to tick the “I got COVID box”, along with my family, cancel an exciting vacation and also revisit some deep inner-wounds (with the help of my therapist). I also watched The Ultimatum on Netflix, which can’t be unseen, so to say I’ve had better weeks would be an understatement.
My family and I are doing physically well now, but the emotional and spiritual pieces are still shifting and landing.
One thing I appreciated was that not one person minimized my pain about this experience. That’s a braggy thing to say, isn’t it? Bear with me. No one said, “It could be worse”, or that, “At least you don’t have to deal with __________ “, or, “maybe it happened for a reason?” And noticing this seems important to highlight. I got a lot of, “You really needed a vacation”, or “You were really looking forward to that”, or “That sucks so bad!”
The reason I want to note this occasion is that it hasn’t been the norm in my life experience. Growing up in a conservative Christian community, this belief that privilege should minimize pain was very strong among my family, friends and community. Yet instead of connecting people or making anyone feel better, it created distance, arrogance, and disconnection from one’s self, the environment, each-other and the world. It created Savior complexes and badges of honour for bearing pain with no complaint.
The belief that privilege should negate pain is one of the most persistent beliefs I come across in those seeking therapy. Often people feel a deep shame about feeling sadness and anger about life’s circumstances, when they have so many aspects of privilege in their life.
Why should privilege mean that you don’t feel emotional pain?
If you start to unpack this, you may find that it doesn’t make any logical sense that any type of privilege should stop you from feeling emotional pain. This would only lead to a small portion of the world being allowed to feel pain and I guarantee you that many of them would probably think of someone else they know who has it worse than them.
A Different Perspective
In the Western world we haven’t been taught to think with a lot of nuance. You either love your parents or hate them. You either agree vaccination is a good choice or you don’t. You’re pro-life or you’re pro-choice. And on and on to any issue with some polarity.
A lot of times we carry multiple opposing truths within ourselves. “I love my parent/spouse/friend but I find some experiences with that person to be quite painful and hurtful”.
Acknowledging that a parent or partner did something wounding, doesn’t mean you don’t love them too.
Acknowledging that a parent or partner is a loving human being, doesn’t mean that they didn’t do something wounding.
If you’ve ever seen Canadian Dr. Gabor Mate in person or listened to him online, you’ll get introduced to his party trick of connecting current pain to childhood pain. Any time someone says, “I had a great childhood”, he will quickly find the dialectic in that person’s experience, leaving them with a conundrum of whether they can hold two truths at once, or disregard the pain or the love.
A different way to look at things are to acknowledge privileges in one’s life and also one’s pains and struggles. I am a white heterosexual woman living in Ontario – I have a ton of privilege. At the same time I also experience pain, shame, anger, sadness and so much more.
Acknowledging Our Own Pain Allows Us to Hold Space for Others Pain
Sometimes there is a fear that if we feel our pain we’ll get sucked into some vortex of pain that will never let us see the light of day. Is that true?
Sometimes one’s pain is extremely overwhelming – in that case I always recommend trying this out with a therapist. Some things are best unpacked with some care.
Ultimately, as we find new ways to be present with our pain, I’ve noticed that it helps us connect more deeply and compassionately with those around us. If I can learn to create a safe place to feel my own pain, it also allows me to hold this space with others in an authentic way. It allows me to be open to different perspectives. Life can be really hard. Life can really suck. Sometimes people in our lives are really irritating. And life is sometimes exciting, fun and joyful too.