Ever catch yourself repeatedly saying to people who ask you how you’re doing, “everything’s great!”, when in reality you kind of feel like shit? You would never just tell anyone what’s really going on because of the stigma that is attached to emotional pain. In our culture, emotional pain is perceived as a weakness. If you dare mention to someone how you really feel in a negative way, you would risk getting the pity look and perhaps even feeling like an outcast.
However, one would think that any pain would be perceived as weak in our culture, but that isn’t always the case. Oddly, physical pain is actually considered socially acceptable. If you break your arm or if someone close to you passes away, it is socially accepted to communicate on it publicly. People will even be sympathetic and present for you.
Yet, somehow, when it comes to emotional pain, the story changes completely. It just seems ludicrous to show up at work or attend a dinner party being vulnerable and sharing our stories of pain. Why? Because emotional pain is considered shameful in our culture. We’ve been raised to believe that emotional pain is uncomfortable and weak, and that therefore, it must be “fixed” in order to appear strong. The truth is, we may appear strong, but we never truly “fix” the pain. Denying and numbing our emotional pain is just another way for us to feel even more shame. There is no strength in denying pain to exist. In fact, quite the contrary. But that is for another post.
The conclusion isn’t to walk out the door every morning sharing our emotional pain with just anyone. The society we live in isn’t ready for it anyway and we would probably not benefit from exposing ourselves to people who don’t understand pain. But perhaps a first step is to start seeing emotional pain in a different way, understanding it as an integral part of being human and becoming socially responsible in breaking the stigma that emotional pain is shameful.
By Charlotte Haimes