by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD
Charlie Brown and Lucy were standing in the back of the classroom. The dialogue (to the best of my memory) went something like this:
Charlie Brown: Where were you yesterday? I saw your desk was empty.
Lucy: I was homesick. I had a cold.
Charlie Brown: There were a lot of empty desks. There must have been a lot of kids with colds yesterday.
Lucy: Mine was worse though.
Charlie Brown: Why is that?
Lucy: Because it happened to me!
We can draw a couple of principles from the wisdom of Charles Schulz. First, perception is reality, meaning my pain is my pain, and it is real to me. Second, no one gets to judge or reject my perception of my pain.
We might conclude that Lucy is just a bit self-centered, and rather lacking in empathy for other kids who were sick with colds. Her personality, if you have spent a lifetime reading Charlie Brown comic strips and watching TV specials, certainly demonstrates a slight lack of concern for the other person. But that is a point for another day.
The relevant point today is that it (her cold) happened to Lucy and she, therefore, perceives her pain as the worst! The principle applies to emotional and relational pain just as well.
Many people tend to compare their painful experiences to those of others. And sometimes, like Lucy, the tendency is to get so focused on self that the pain of others goes unseen. But in my experience people living on the Plains are more inclined to see the suffering of others and suggest that they themselves don’t have it as bad as others. That is, they downplay their own pain, do their best to ‘suck it up,’ and go about their business.
This approach initially looks courageous, thoughtful, and thus admirable on first blush. However, what I can tell you is that pain pushed down and inside as a way to keep it at bay is pain that will emerge unexpectedly and in unexpected ways. Pushing pain down and inside tends to result in all sorts of emotional and relational problems.
In contrast, expressing your pain (in healthy ways), letting it up and out, tends to work in your favor and assists with helping you gain emotional and relationship stability.
Lucy may be a bit over the top in her conclusion that her cold was worse than everyone else's cold. But there is still an important point to be made. Maybe it can be expressed this way: your pain is real, and it doesn’t become less real just because it might be perceived as less painful than someone else’s experience.
There is a certain reciprocity that occurs as a result of authentic sharing of our burdens. Just as we express our pain, so we are able to bear the pain of others and be supportive of them. We don’t always have the ability to reduce the degree of pain we or others feel, but the practice of “sharing and bearing” can radically reduce the power of pain.
That makes all the difference.
Need a place to share your pain? We have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton-based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.