“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
I have been the strong, silent type before. Smothered the angry flames engulfing my heart without as much as a sideways glance at the person who sparked the fire. Hid pain behind a pleasant disposition. Bit my tongue rather than voice my hurt feelings.
I have also been the emotional wreck. Less than eloquent in my attempt to vocalize my disappointment. Shaky voice an uncomfortable foreshadowing. Entire face bathed in tears when I promised myself I would not cry.
Looking back at my opposite coping mechanisms – false indifference versus admitted distress – I prefer the latter. I decided to weigh both options after noticing one woman too many declare that she would never give a man the satisfaction of knowing he hurt her.
I get it. I, too, prefer to be poised. Unshakable. Able to withstand emotional blows without flinching. However, I have not always been successful in my attempts to play it cool. And my moments of emotional nudity have convinced me that there are a few reasons why women should speak up when we are in pain, or at least not be ashamed when our feelings show up:
Some people don’t know they hurt you. For some reason we easily accept that we all have different tastes in music and food, but struggle to understand why everyone’s feelings are not set up the same way. We all have different hot buttons, and an accompanying list of undesirable behaviors known to push said buttons. However, even the most observant person will not know all your buttons without being told. When we point out our pain, we give people an opportunity to stop pushing our buttons.
Some people are in denial about the hurt they cause. Sometimes people are fully aware that something might have the potential to cause pain. However, as the benefactor in the situation, they convince themselves that it’s ‘not that bad’ because you haven’t said otherwise. They find it easier to excuse their behavior when they are not confronted by the consequences of their actions. Your pain is a consequence that they need to face. They are not necessarily horrible people, but they are selfish. They will put their desires ahead of your needs until you cry “uncle” and force them to honestly assess the situation.
Consider David, the one who the Bible says was a man after God’s heart, but who clearly wore blinders when it came to his mess. By committing adultery and then murder to cover it up, he broke at least two of the Ten Commandments. Yet God still had to send a prophet to point out his wrongs (2 Samuel 12). David could not see his offenses because he did not want to see them. Sometimes you have to help people see it, particularly if you’re the one suffering from their selective vision.
Most men don’t want to hurt us. As I mentioned, some women speak of not giving men the satisfaction of knowing their hurt. This might make sense for strangers, but for men you have liked and loved, I believe the “satisfaction” of seeing you in pain is a myth. Decent, mature men don’t gloat over hurting women or boast about breaking hearts.
In fact, I would argue that being forced to accept they have inflicted pain on a woman they care for is a significant part of what makes some men want to do and be better. I think men hear hurt better than they do anger. I believe there is something about being face to face with tears you caused that helps them grow into the men they need to be.
We are all a lesson for someone. We sarcastically say we made a man better for the next woman, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If your relationship fails, would you not want him to apply any knowledge of his mistakes to the next girl? Would you not want to spare her pain? Have you considered that the man of your future has learned some lessons from previous heartbroken women, who ultimately prepared him to be a better man for you? Lessons, oftentimes dressed as people, make the world go ‘round.
I do not advocate being guinea pigs in people’s love experiments, nor being vulnerable with every person who causes you pain. However, I do suggest that for the monumental hurts for which we are most compelled to downplay our feelings, that we lay down our pride and look at the big picture. If we are vulnerable enough to confess the hurt, we will know that for those who leave us with their hearts in the same condition in which they arrived, it is due to their own unwillingness to grow.
As I said, I understand the numerous reasons why we save face rather than vocalize our pain.
We don’t want the other person to know how much we cared. Yet if the depth of our feelings for them is brand new information, perhaps we failed to guard our hearts and became emotionally invested all by our lonesome.
We don’t want to appear weak – not realizing that strength does not require us to abandon our softness.
We dread being seen as overly emotional. But women don’t have to change who we are at our core in order to relate to the opposite sex.
We think that saying someone hurt us demonstrates that they had power over us. However, if we allow others to provoke us to deny our feelings, have we not already surrendered?
Finally, in the most extreme cases, we either trick ourselves into thinking we are not hurting, or convince ourselves that the situation does not warrant the pain that we feel. Meanwhile, for every hurt we quietly tuck away, another is heaped on top of it. We gradually become accustomed to the pain until it weighs down our hearts. Then one day we look up and realize that all that pain is killing us – and like Zora said, people claim we like it.
Women are good at carrying things, often with no help. However, I don’t think it’s our responsibility to carry it all. We can lay down some of our hurt by admitting it to those who have caused it. They are not required to carry it either, but at least we have lessened our load, leaving us lighter and freer, making room for all the love and happiness that surely lies ahead.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.