Whose pain am I really carrying?

I have always been expected to listen to other people’s stories of pain, because in comparison to the worst cases out there, I was told I didn’t have any of my own. I was taught I needed to give my all to those who did. I was raised to be a martyr, and it has taken a lot of conscious effort on my part to end this pattern.

I was trained to be capable of listening to the graphic, tragic stories of others, to touch what no person should have to touch. I was taught that I was weak if it was too much for me to handle. We didn’t know there could be repercussions being surrounded by so much secondary trauma, let alone the term secondary trauma. We didn’t know that it wasn’t weak to feel these stories in our own being.

I can still handle these stories. I can still sit with those as they speak of their experiences, be them old, or brand new. Instead, I choose to offer support in other ways when possible. I choose to place boundaries around what I listen to, and how many stories I hear (which is hard in my line of work). I choose to denormalize the amount of trauma in my life, just as I have chosen to work on healing my own so that when I do share my stories with those who consent to hearing them, they hear a history, and not just my pain.

Once I realized I did have my own trauma, I began looking for someone to sit with me while I told my stories- to listen and hear me. I wanted someone to understand that I too have my own pain that deserves to be acknowledged. I have worked to grow to a place where instead of bottling up, or pushing my pain onto another as had been done to me, I am continually making the choice to acknowledge it for myself. My own acknowledgement is enough. Sometimes I slip up, and have to remind myself I am unlearning decades of ingrained behaviour.

If another is willing to listen, bonus. If someone isn’t capable of hearing my story outside of needing to “one up me” (as was more often than not the case when I would gain the confidence to speak) it does not mean mine didn’t happen, nor does it diminish my experience. This need of theirs just means that their ability to perceive another’s experience is outside of their current reality. And that is okay.

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