Silent suffering wears on the soul. It starts with quieting the cry that wants to leap from your throat threatening to expose your pain and vulnerability. We tell ourselves we are protecting our loved ones from worrying about us or needing to step up and support us as we support them. Silent suffering continues with self-denial; judging and questioning ourselves for feeling upset, hurt, disappointed, because “we should have known better” than to get our hopes up for love, acceptance, and affirmation. Eventually, it becomes hard to connect with the parts of ourselves that are soft and vulnerable, the parts of ourselves that need love and tenderness. Silent suffering wears on the soul.
Many black women suffer silently. Occasionally, we express our suffering through anger, often at injustice we see against our communities, sometimes anger at our partners and loved ones, and anger at ourselves. We don’t express our sadness through tears often enough. One of the reasons that we suffer silently is because we have been socialized to be superwomen. Powerful and able to do amazing things in the face of unbelievable odds. Making delicious nourishing meals from unwanted food, sowing beautiful quilts from scraps of cloth to keep our families warm, organizing and protesting against racial injustice while being demeaned and marginalized. These are all things that black women have done for generations and continue to do today. And, in addition to acknowledging our #blackgirlmagic it is essential that we give voice to our sorrows and suffering.
Our pain is made into suffering through suppression. Not acknowledging and addressing the difficult aspects of our experiences makes whatever we are feeling worse. Suppression doesn’t solve problems, it simply pushes them off so that they come out later in more toxic and destructive ways.
We are liberated through telling our whole messy, beautiful, ugly, hard, vulnerable story. Sharing our experiences with others and hearing that they have been through similar things reminds us that we are not alone. The shame we bore because we thought we were the only weak one, the only broken one, is swept away when we hear that someone else experienced that darkness too.
How to Stop Suffering Silently
Respond to yourself with compassion – instead of beating yourself in response to your pain, see if you can respond to yourself with love and compassion in the midst of your suffering. If this is hard to do, imagine sending some love and compassion to your younger self, a baby, or puppy in distress.
Share your experience with others – instead of keeping your experience to yourself and continually telling everyone that you’re “fine,” identify a few people who you trust to share with. If you’re concerned with how people might respond, you can tell them that what will be most helpful is for them to listen and empathize with you.
Really check in with friends and family – When you think a friend or family member is suffering, reach out and check on them. Let them know that you want to be there for them in an authentic way and don’t want them to sugar coat things to protect you. Sometimes it can be hard to hear about someone’s suffering because we don’t know how to make it better. The best thing you can do when someone shares their pain is to be present, listen, and empathize.
Seek professional help – Consistent therapy is a powerful way to stop our silent suffering. Having a therapist bear witness to, and help you make sense of, your pain in a nonjudgmental space can heal deep wounds. (Check out two of my previous posts to learn more about why going to therapy can be helpful and how to find and choose a therapist).