Are You Hiding Your Pain?

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?

22 thoughts on “Are You Hiding Your Pain?

  1. I think it’s great that you’re blogging! I love your background choice–it’s the same one I picked. Great minds think alike :-)). With your permission, I would love to add your link to my blog. We gotta stick together!!

    ~Sheila

    • Thank you so very much Sheila! I am honored you would chose to link to my blog, I consider it a find compliment!
      I LOVE our background choice, although, I’m afraid I’ve seen it around quite a bit lately… I am happy to be in such fine company! Sticking together is what it’s all about. I love connecting with others who are also passionate about sharing their health issues and working together. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. These kind of things make my day!

    • You know what, I totally get that. Sometimes if we show our pain the response is painful. It kind of comes back to the those two extremes, the wearing the mask or wearing it all on our sleeve, the hiding behind our pain with a smile or sharing our pain all of the time and dwelling in it… we have to find the right times and places to express it, but it needs to be expressed.
      Thank you so much for commenting and sharing! Hope you’ll do so again.

  2. What an incredibly evocative post whether the pain is physical, emotional or both! I like the idea of a “solution detector:” I think I’ll have to get one, too! 🙂
    May you always find your middle ground!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Go find your solution detector… they malfunction at times, but definitely worth having around! =) Thank you…

  3. Seeing Sheila’s comment reminded me: I’d love to link to your blog, too, with your permission. While these days my blog is “free floating” in terms of themes, I do have health issues such as fibro and chronic pain.

  4. Great post! put a lot of things into words that describe things I have felt myself many times so this really resonates with me!

    The way you felt with your brother – I sometimes feel I would rather have that connection than the people who “fall for” the mask, the smile, who think you are doing fine, even though you are in so much pain… I have friends who tell me: “You’re looking great!” even though I dragged myself out to see them and to me it’s worse that they don’t see how much I suffered to get there. My pain is invisible to them. So even though I often try so hard and put a lot of effort into my mask, there are times I wish it weren’t so successful.

    I think people, especially friends, need to be more aware of the pain that is there.
    ~krismom

    • It is so validating when someone sees our pain, isn’t it? And we do work hard to keep up the masks sometimes… to look put together and to show the world a pretty face instead of the one that is grimacing in pain. Our illnesses are invisible to the rest of the world, that’s why it is so important we talk about them.

      I can’t tell you how often I feel like friends and family are kind of nodding their head, like “yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before, you are tired and feeling bad, again”. Deep inside I wonder, do they think I’m making this up? Do they think it is my fault? Then, when I am all made up and looking good, I often feel they might think that the pain has disappeared.

      So… I understand the desire to not be quite so “successful” at covering up your pain!

  5. This was a lovely post. One of the best parts about doing therapy is when clients begin to trust that it really is safe to show their pain. I think that those people who see through our masks and create those spaces for us to be safe are some of the best gifts out there! Thank you for sharing.

  6. You know, when I was reading this post I was inmediatly taken to a few months earlier when I was so deeply depressed and I used to have that same behavior you describe there. It’s something not so planned but yes it is a skill that tired us out. Although there are still some things working not so well in my life, I have decided to try and be positive and happy.

  7. Thats how i feel everyday and i cant stand it anymore i feel like no one can tell im upset they dont ask no one does i feel like i cant be myself and im tired of keeping this pain inside me and i know exactly how you feel like today i am very upset but i dont show it and its hard and thankyou for sharing this 😦

  8. I feel exactly the same! worse thing worse, I HAVE to wear a mask, as my job consists mainly on smiling and looking good at all times. But deep down I am a wreck. I do allow myself to cry though, and if do I won’t stop….obviously always on my own. No one knows how i feel at all, as I’m the funny, easy going, happy one!

  9. Hi ya it all sounds so familiar …pain its a journey healing can feel yours certainly as i read !
    Take care look after yourself recently started bloging my pain look forward blog to a chat on it blog…
    Called paininhidingabuse

  10. Hi ya it all sounds so familiar …pain its a journey healing can feel yours certainly as i read !
    Take care look after yourself recently started bloging my pain look forward to a chat on it
    Called paininhidingabuse!

  11. I really relate to hiding behind a mask. It seemed a safer coping method than most of the other I had tried. I also strongly believed that others would turn away in disgust if I revealed the depth of my pain or would just tell me to stop pitying myself and pull myself up by the bootstraps. Writing has helped me release some of that pain. I hope it is helping you release pain too.

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