047 How and When to Share Your Pain with Others

There is a Tribe whose members are both hidden and everywhere around you. By taking the vulnerable step of sharing your pain, you can find its members and enter in. That was the message of my last post and podcast. But some caveats are needed. As much as there’s a time to share your suffering with others, there’s also a time not to. Here’s how to work out the difference.

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Share Publicly After You’ve Shared Privately

I once led a retreat on the [amazon_link id=”0849964806″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Resurrection Year[/amazon_link] message, called From Broken Dreams to New Beginnings. It was a profound week of healing. But one thing marked this retreat from others I’d led. As I’d done elsewhere, in the first session I shared my wife’s and my broken dream, then opened the floor for those who wished to share theirs. On other occasions participants shared their stories freely. But this time people stayed silent. ‘Will there be other opportunities to share during the week?’ someone finally asked. I assured them there would. They said ‘OK.’ And we moved on.

Only as the week progressed did I understand the reason for the reticence.

Over the following days, many retreatants asked to see me privately. And in the safe space of a quiet room they told me stories of such loss, such horror and such betrayal, all I can say is their broken dreams were of a level I hadn’t encountered before.

There may have only been twenty people on the retreat, and the ground rules of confidentiality may have been stated clearly, but these people wanted to know their deepest pain would be treated with the deepest care. Trust needed to be built before they could share.

Naturally, the retreatants sought that trust first from me. Later, some shared their story with one or two others as their trust in them grew. By the end of the week, some were ready to share with the whole group. But others weren’t. And that was OK.

Lessons:

  • Before you share your pain publicly, share it privately for your own healing
  • Share with those who have earnt your trust
  • Share with those who have a record of care-giving and confidence-keeping
  • Get professional help where necessary from pastors and counsellors

Share Publicly When You’re Ready to Serve

On that same retreat was a woman I’ll call Beth. On the second-last afternoon of the retreat Beth was ready to share her story with me privately. For over an hour, and through many tears, she told me her broken dream. It was beyond tragic and had attracted much media attention at the time, which had only deepened her trauma.

But there was a redemptive element to Beth’s story. Beth had sought professional help, had begun to slowly heal, and in the previous year had seen God bring something beautiful out of her pain. Through the tragedy, God had placed Beth in a position to profoundly help people she never expected to help. This outcome was still as surprising to her as it was to me hearing it for the first time.

‘Beth,’ I said after we’d prayed together, ‘your experience of God recycling your suffering into service to others is exactly what I’ve been trying to teach this week.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I suppose it is.’

I paused but sensed it was right to proceed. ‘Please feel no pressure to say yes to this,’ I said, ‘but would you consider sharing your story with the group tomorrow? It could be tremendously helpful for them to see what God can do.’

Beth thought for a moment. ‘I haven’t shared this publicly before,’ she said.

‘And you don’t have to now,’ I said.

‘Let me pray about it,’ she said. ‘I’ll get back to you.’

Later that afternoon Beth told me she would take the risk. I scrapped my plans for the following morning’s session and interviewed Beth instead. Through tears and silence and even laughter, Beth shared both her broken dream and God’s redemption of it. Her vulnerability marked a turning point in her journey, became profoundly healing for others on the retreat, and forged some deep relationships.

Lessons:

  • Share your pain publicly only when you’re ready to help others
  • Share publicly when your rawest emotions have passed (shedding tears is one thing, sharing anger or bitterness is another)
  • A small group can be a safe place to share when you’re ready

***

The Tribe of the Scarred is a precious tribe to be part of, and membership comes only through vulnerably sharing your pain. But begin with someone you trust for your own healing first. Who knows what it may lead to.

Your Response

How has this worked in your life? What have I missed? Leave a comment below now or call me using the ‘Send Voicemail’ button on the right. Please also rate and share this podcast on iTunes to help others discover it!

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Picture: Flickr: Marty Hadding (creative commons)

Comments:

  • July 22, 2015
    Lyndal Mitchell

    These are wise words. Some of us are inclined to share too much too quickly in the mistaken belief that we somehow owe others our stories, or that sharing them is necessarily and always helpful. Learning wisdom about when, where and with whom to share our deepest pain is part of the process of learning to value and respect ourselves as God does. Your insights here are wise and helpful Sheridan. I would like to add that there are different kinds of pain – and different kinds of shattered dreams. The pain of loss is different o the pain of our own sin, for example. The exposure we feel in revealing something that happened to us is different to the exposure of revealing something that happened within us. We need to think differently about different kinds of honesty, and different people may be trusted for different kinds of pain. This is the territory I’m walking through at present. It’s so very painful. Our choices about when/where/with whom cannot be unmade. And the consequences are out of our hands. We open ourselves to further pain when we open our hearts to others. And yet, the alternative is worse.
    Thank God (literally) that He knows us completely and loves us fiercely.

    reply
    • July 22, 2015

      You’ve given me something to reflect on, Lyndal. I think you’re right about different types of pain requiring different treatment. When it comes to sinful actions and behaviours, shame is involved too and the ‘sharing’ really becomes confession for the guilty party. And confession is certainly not to be done publicly. Confidential pastoral help is the first port of call, if the person sinned against can’t be approached directly to seek forgiveness from.

      My prayers are with you today, whatever the situation is you’re facing.

      reply
  • July 22, 2015
    DJ Brown

    Whenever I have told my own experience of clinical depression it has opened doors for other to tell their stories and find community. Your advice here is vital because people in the midst of their suffering don’t need the added pain of unhelpful responses or gossip. Sometimes the church is not the safest place to bare our hearts.

    reply
    • July 22, 2015

      Thanks for your comment, DJ. When need someone trustworthy to share to for our sake, so we can then share publicly for others sake.

      reply

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