It took me until my early thirties and an early mid-life crisis, involving debilitating physical pain, and chronic depression and anxiety, to finally see that I had my own pain.
Three decades of always caring more about others, including the animals in my life, had left me utterly depleted. So much so that I literally had to stop life - I stopped work and almost all activities so that I could finally turn my gaze inwards and seek-out my long-ago buried pain and suffering. No more could I hide behind my desire to help all and sundry besides myself. I finally realised I had to start helping ME before I could once again be of service to others.
From the earliest age I had eagerly projected my hurt out onto animals who were suffering or scared, or more unconsciously, be the too-young, care-giver of my parents and other family members who greedily soaked up my caring nature and eagerness to avoid my own pain. (See also: "The Burden of being the Feeling-Bearer" for more on this role in families).
So, now whenever I hear people say the following phrases, all-too familiar "red flags" indicating acts of self-avoidance are raised in my awareness:
"I was lucky compared to others..."
"My poor brother, sister, mother, father, now they suffered..."
"It wasn't too bad for me..."
"There are a lot of folk much worse off than me..."
"Poor so and so, now what SHE has to put up with; that's suffering.."
"I'm not dealing with half the pain that you're going through..."
And then there's the behaviours, most common of these are:
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm all for animal welfare, world issues being solved and vulnerable people being helped by charities. I have been both a rescuer of animals from a very early age, and a charity worker - striving to rescue other people.
The "rescuer" however goes through life helping others - intimate partners, friends, family members, colleagues, animals and complete strangers, and never rescuing the one person who needs their help the most; themselves.
What I'm referring to here are people who think and do the above to avoid THEMSELVES. And by themselves, I mean more specifically; their own pain.
All of the above provides the perfect beliefs and actions to allow you to avoid, dismiss, deny, ignore and neglect your own pain.
Because, let's face it, it is so much easier, and by that I mean pain-free, to focus your attention and energy on others' pain.
Minimising your own experiences and hurts enables you to avoid feeling your own pain fully. And you know this. You've had inklings of just how much it would hurt if you did feel into your pain. And so you project it out onto others - people, animals, situations, causes or the entire planet!
We also do this I believe to avoid feeling the full range and depth of feelings towards those who caused us hurt and pain, especially those from childhood - usually our parents. As inevitably, no child wants to feel anger, rage, and hatred for their own mother or father, sister or brother, indeed we are strongly conditioned in our society to always honor and obey our parents. And yet is it most often these very people who we do feel these very strong feelings towards.
Again, it's too hard and painful to admit this, even as a fully grown adult. It still feels too risky and wrong. Society brings us all up to love our parents no matter what they do to us, or don't do through neglect or unconsciousness.
Yet denying these feelings is also part of avoidance of the Self. For they form major parts of what we truly feel. And again, we end up projecting them onto our loved ones especially our partner, colleagues, friends; even complete strangers.
But not only do we avoid ourselves, we minimise or even render ourselves invisible... This happens because we expend so much energy externally we run the risk of draining ourselves of our own vital life force energy, which is essential to sustain us on every level - emotionally, physically and spiritually. We can literally become a shadow of our fullest selves by continually projecting our focus and energy outwards and by denying the truth of our own pain.
We each are fully entitled to every feeling that runs through our body, every changing nuance of emotion is ours and belongs to us. It comes from somewhere, it has an origin - an experience, a comment, an incident; a traumatic episode.
To deny ourselves our own internal feelings and process, is to deny our self.
Next time you catch yourself about to minimise what you're going through and starting to compare yourself to another's situation - remember this: everyone is going through something, to differing degrees yes but it's all relative.
And if someone in your past - a parent or sibling - told you to think of others not yourself, that you should be grateful, that there are others far worse off than you, remember they are just passing on the denial based attitudes they were instilled with and will also be hiding and denying their own pain, and therefore suffering needlessly too.
Be gentle with yourself, acknowledge you own feelings and your own pain.
Be as compassionate to yourself as you would be towards others - human or animal. Stroke and love yourself as you would your partner, child, pet.
© Angela Dunning, 9 November 2014, revised 16 December 2015 and 24 September 2017