This post is in response to a section called “The Stifled Scream”. David Richo talks about the fact that pain we experienced earlier in life can have a way of being silenced (not heard by our own selves or the people around us). It is silenced especially if there was a message transmitted somewhere along the line that the expression of feelings needed to be muted. Just think about this: this is an indirect message that is occurring a lot. Consider cultures where it is prudent to keep the inner world private, to a situation where there is violence in the home, then all the way along the spectrum until you get to a parent that is doing the best they can with three children who ends up snapping at a kid who gets super excited about seeing candy or a toy because they need to make it through that trip to the grocery store. Of course, the intensity of the message to silence our experience varies across situations.
Ok, so let’s say that, to some degree, we got the message that we needed to limit our full self expression of feelings. That means the volume was turned down on the whole spectrum of emotion: not just excitement, but also pain. We got the message, then all of the sudden, our brain started to help us out by coming up with ways to manage our feelings that matched the cues of our environment without much conscious effort. Fantastic. The only trouble is that the way we figured out how to do it doesn’t always work in the long run. That’s why I’m writing to you about this. Along with the theme of what I have talked about before, we actually have the choice to update our system for dealing with pain as adults.
A lot of times the way that someone learns how to cut down on pain is through minimizing the event that caused the pain or rationalizing it. It looks like this: ‘My dad had to leave because he got a great job opportunity in another state after my parents divorced’. Yes, you can understand this and maybe even respect it if it helped him support your family/education or if he had trouble finding work before. You might even understand that he missed you. At the same time, it was painful that he was not there to teach you to ride a bike, to protect you from your mother’s mood swings or be with you in quiet moments at night when you missed him. I love what David Richo says about this: “the phrase ‘what was meant’ is totally unintelligible to the body” (p. 27). Yes, exactly. To a little boy, it does not matter why his dad was not there. To him, to his little body, his Dad is not there when he needed him. Period.
In order to silence the pain, we try to make sense of it in our mind (rationalize). We might even try to make little adjustments to the truth of what happened like minimizing our feelings or start bending the truth of what was right in front of us ('My mother wasn't that mean when she was drinking and she didn't really mean what she said anyway'). It is totally understandable why we would do that, but the cost is that this becomes a habit. We have turned down the volume on the pain (not allowing it to simply move through us since there might not have been a lot of support for our little bodies to allow this process to occur: remember the beginning where we got the message that we had to turn down our full self expression?) and we have dampened down our whole selves. Without allowing feelings to simply move through and be processed, they get stored and stuck inside without our conscious awareness and then we are depressed and anxious human beings.
I am not, and David Richo surely is not, suggesting that we live in pain and fear non-stop. No, in fact, I am saying the opposite. Let the pain have its day in the sun and let it be done. David Richo says: “Impact takes precedence over intention every time” (p. 29). That’s the key: allowing what occurred to have an impact. Tell your loved one: “I was hurt by what you said/did”. They need to receive your communication. Then there can be space for them to say and for you to listen about the intention behind what they said or did.
I find that usually people act in a way that makes sense if you follow their steps. But just because we can understand them does not mean our feelings about it don’t matter. Consider that maybe people need to hear the impact they have on us, how their words and actions come across. Your authentic feedback could be a gift for them if they are willing to receive it. We have to be kind, fair and responsible about how we communicate about our response, otherwise, our delivery is what the person responds to and your golden message that could help them grow as a human being gets lost.
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*This post based on the section "The Stifled Scream " (pp. 26-29).