For years, I wallowed in self-pity because I believed life dealt me a bad hand, a bad father, a father who didn’t understand his own pain and only knew to thrust it onto his middle child. A father figure should be one whom a child can trust, right? What does a child do when that trust is so betrayed? Without an understanding of the purpose of that pain, a child can only seek to protect itself, keep people at an arm’s length, distant and separate, so that it won’t have to feel such a betrayal again.
What I have learned in the journey of my life is that one can’t forgive without an understanding that we all share in a collective pain.
A few years back, I was taking an online course and had to ask my sister a question. I was studying some past philosophers who were questioning memory and perception, and I was instructed to ask my sister a question to see what her recollection was and to compare it to my own recollection. The question asked to my sister was “How many times do you recall that dad physically harmed me?”
Her answer was quite shocking at first. Her answer was “50-100, very vivid memories.” I, myself, could only recall a few. I understand that there can be a certain repression in trauma, but I didn’t sense that.
Something occurred to me when I contemplated her answer. In looking back, during and after the incidences of the physical harm, there was never any consideration of anyone other than myself and what had happened to me. There was never any consideration of the pain that my sisters and my mom experienced in having to witness that abuse. One might say that is normal, but is it really?
Perhaps in one sense it is, but what happens in life when we only ever consider ourselves?
I noticed that in considering only myself in those experiences, it validated the belief in victimhood, a certain specialness in suffering that made me different than others. It validated the anger and resentment I felt toward my sisters because they weren’t recipients of that physical abuse. It validated the idea that my father was to blame for the pain in my life. In being the victim, there was no room for any other consideration.
When my sister responded “50-100 very vivid memories”, I realized that although she wasn’t the recipient of the physical part of that abuse, she was the recipient of the psychological part. She shared in the pain of those experiences.
The pain of those memories, came up in her mind to be revisited 50-100 times (perhaps more), and with every revisit, the pain reloading itself. Who suffered more pain, my sister or I? Does it really matter? Pain is Pain. It can’t be measured. It’s neither shallow nor deep, it simply is.
What if we were to understand that, no matter the outward appearance, everyone is in pain. Everyone. Every negative word or action spoken or taken, is taken from pain.
I believe we all know deep down within ourselves that we wouldn’t consciously choose to harm another, we just wouldn’t. It is pain that chooses to harm another. It is pain that chooses to fight. It is pain that continually seeks a host to feed upon.
One would have to be blind not to see that the collective pain has reached such a pitch in this world. That pitch will only continue to rise until we all, as brothers and sisters here, understand that there is a shared pain by one and all. Without compassion, there can only be conflict. I’m not saying that violence should ever be condoned. What I’m saying is that perhaps we should get to know of another’s pain before we want to punish them for their words or actions.
To get to know another’s pain, we must know our own, stand in our own.
What I mean by that is when someone says or does something negative that we don’t like, instead of allowing the pain to reload itself by responding in kind (from pain), stand there and just let things be as they are without a response. Work to feel the pain that is moving through us and trying to push us to reload itself back onto the other person.
In doing that, in suffering ourselves that way, we come to understand that the pain that arose in us is the same pain that the other spoke or took action from. One pain. My father didn’t know he was taking action from pain. He didn’t know that there was a way through that pain by the suffering of it. How can anyone be blamed for something they aren’t aware of? What if the very unawareness of that fact is its own punishment?
Compassion is born when we suffer our pain, and only in living from a compassionate nature will we ever take consideration of others and not just ourselves.
Everyone wants a better world, yet most of us are unwilling to pay the price for it. The price we must pay is suffering our part in the collective pain, for only through that can we bring into this world the positively positive change it so desperately needs.
Terri Knuth (a/k/a Terri Poppins) started an on-call nanny business in 2009 after a 31-year career as a paralegal because she felt a certain calling to work with children. She has cared for well over 100 families with children of all ages, including doing respite care for special needs children. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, swimming, and attending classes at the Life of Learning Foundation, a center for self-study. You can find more information on her site: www.terri-poppins.com.
Image courtesy of Paulinho Souza.