Recently someone on Twitter posted about hiding pain behind a smile … it sure struck a chord with me.
I can’t tell you how many years I acted like I was fine, how long I smiled through the pain. How often people remarked about my lovely smile, even though inside I was filled with despair, self-loathing and such a deep longing for love and acceptance. I have always tried to smile a lot. I think it’s important to smile, it feels good inside and it’s a very warm way to greet others. But when you are smiling on the outside and hurting on the inside, it sure doesn’t feel so good.
That smile can be the ultimate oxymoron. Sometimes people refer to this same kind of behavior as wearing a mask. Wearing the mask can become second nature, all in an effort to bury and hide the pain. It may even be more comfortable after time to hide the pain, to wear that mask (no matter how heavy it may be), rather than feel the pain even for a moment.
Hiding the pain behind a smile, behind a mask, can lead to all kinds of unpleasant coping techniques. (Should I count just how many of these I’ve tried? Nope.) Even worse than the unhealthy coping mechanisms, I think is how you can almost die to yourself if you do not allow yourself to express and show your pain at appropriate times. I haven’t mastered this…in fact, I seem to go from one end of the spectrum to the other at times. I work hard to be more positive than I was in the past, I work hard to feel better and to wear a smile more often, yet it can be easy to fall into old patterns and behaviors.
Thankfully, some people can see through it. Just yesterday I saw my brother briefly… I met him in a parking lot to pick something up from him. I was wearing sunglasses, my eyes were completely covered. My hair was fixed. I looked pretty “normal” on the outside. But somehow, as soon as he saw me he noticed something… he said, “You don’t look like you feel very good.” All at the same time I was shocked that he could tell and I was also thankful. My eyes welled up with tears… he couldn’t see that. It really was sweet relief to have my pain acknowledged (even if it was more emotional pain than anything). Being strong, stoic and brave behind a smile is exhausting!
Just as I am skilled at hiding pain behind a smile, I am equally skilled at complaining, some might even call it whining. It’s a fine line. Talking about the same problems over and over again gets old. It’s gets old for the listener and for the teller. Dwelling on the negative can become second nature to me as well, if I allow it. I seem to wander back and forth between these two extremes. I certainly feel my best when I am somewhere in the middle, acknowledging the challenges in my life but seeking positive and beauty in the midst. That is what I am really striving to do here, on a consistent basis. I won’t pretend that I have this licked, that I have it all down to a science, but this is what I strive for and I feel passionate about it.
Admittedly, consistency is tough when you live with pain that is sporadic, when you have good days and bad days physically and emotionally. Consistency is tough when life throws things at you, difficult things, different things on different days. But there are some consistencies in life that we can rely on, and these things can help us get through even the most difficult of times.
If you are hiding pain, if you are living behind a mask, I ask you what do you risk by allowing yourself to feel some of that pain? Does it feel like you will lose all control if you feel it? Do you feel like it will overcome you? I have felt that way before… and the truth is, it might overcome you for a while, but if you have support in line (a counselor, a therapist, a trusted pastor or friend) you can trust yourself to feel that pain and move through it. It may be a process, perhaps a long one, but in my experience moving through it always leads to a better place.
Sometimes we get stuck, but we have to remember to keep pushing through it… if we get stuck in the complaining, in the murky waters of self-pity, we have to keep forging ahead and look for solutions. We must look for the things that we do have control over, the ways that we can improve our situations and/or our health, and most importantly keep looking if you don’t see them right away.
I tell you this as much as I tell myself… but in order to live a more beautiful life, we can’t live it hiding behind a smile, we can’t live a life of constantly hiding the pain. Free yourself from that burden, give yourself that gift today.
I have out my solution detector (like a metal detector but it seeks out solutions) right now, it’s getting kind of heavy (I did tell you I am good at whining) but I still have it and I’m going to keep on using it. Will you keep looking too?