There is Power in Pain
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No, Being Callous Doesn't Equate to Being Strong

A commentary on a frequent, age-old misconception.

No, Being Callous Doesn't Equate to Being Strong

If it happened to me once, it happened to me a thousand times: I would be going through a typical teenage crisis or buckling under the stress of my ever-shaking home life, and in a moment of weakness I would confide in the wrong person about my woes. There are two kinds of people who were not good to confide in. One type was the person who was a peer and therefore had just about as much life experience as I had, who would hear me out and then give me a half-hearted response or sub-par advice that didn't really pertain to my issue. The second type of person was someone maybe a few years older than I am, who would not only interrupt me continuously throughout my explanation but at the end of it all, tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself and remind me that so many other people had it worse than I did. While I could recognize that I indeed live life scores easier than a majority of the population, such cold "comfort" did not help me solve my problem, nor did it ease my pain.

Over time, I grew to be ashamed of my "overly" sensitive ways, feeling as though I lacked any resilience at all. In reality, I was reacting on the surface to the one misfortune that had sent me teetering over the edge, where many invisible, unfortunate circumstances had amassed. Moreover, I didn't lack resilience. With these interactions occurring frequently in my developing life, and with people whose words I took as gospel, I learned two things:

1. Not everyone is your lighthouse.

2. If you allow yourself to feel the full extent of your pain, you are ignorant and weak.

The first lesson ended up being one I still believe today-- I can't confide in everyone I know about my deepest hurting, moreover, I can't even confide in everyone I am close with about such things. Not everyone is equipped to help manage a full-blown crisis or even a small scale breakdown, and that is okay. What I know now, however, is that the second lesson is far from true: numbness is not the answer to the necessary pain of life.

About three years ago, I arrived at a juncture in my life where I felt obscenely alone and couldn't confide in anyone. I was facing a cumbersome heartbreak that I wasn't comfortable talking about with my family. I had a friend who baited me to tell all of my woes, only to later tell me such problems were too burdensome and stressful to hear. Lastly, I was just too ashamed to pathetically sob in front of my other friends over such matters, no matter how desperately I needed to do so. This led me down the dark path of apathy, where not only did I feel nothing for myself for a while, but I also couldn't empathize with anyone else around me.

For roughly six months, I felt bitterly isolated at one of the largest universities in the tri-state area, as I slowly allowed one of my greatest gifts to die within me because the world pointed at it and called it "weak". That gift was my compassion-- as soon as I extinguished my right to feel my own pain and began embracing "getting over it" as opposed to developing actual coping skills, I had nothing but apathy for myself and everyone around me. I became that cold, jaded person who responds to people who complain about unfairness with "Life's not fair; suck it up.". That was someone I didn't realize I never wanted to be. But eventually, I grew weary of bottling up the machinations of my mind and blowing off stressful occurrences which merited full-blown freakouts. Still feeling I couldn't really talk to anyone, I decided to buy a journal and whenever anything particularly nasty happened to me that I felt I couldn't share with anyone, I would write it in the journal. I named this journal, quite aptly I think, "Weird thoughts I keep to myself".

Through much introspection in said journal, I realized the extent to which I let my numbness wreak havoc on my relationship with myself and others. There were times I was mistreated and deeply in need of letting myself feel pain, but my answer was being reckless to numb the pain and cover it up. I distinctly recall what should have been a particularly painful day for me, which ended in me taking a walk entirely alone at 3 AM on my college campus, climbing a very high tree, and sitting in it for about an hour. There were a few dangers in this action of mine-- walking around anywhere at 3 AM alone is generally asking for trouble and that night the temperatures were below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and I had on only a fleece jacket and leggings. Additionally, I am allergic to most trees, so touching them usually makes me break out in hives. At this point in my life, I was so steeped in ennui I could not tell you if my downright destructive actions were a function of my numbness that was to act as a distraction so I could achieve the nirvana of numbness, or an attempt to bring me out of my numbness so I could just feel something again. I have a feeling it was the latter, as I am petrified of heights, yet there I sat, a solid 20 feet above the ground.

Equally as important and impacted as my treatment of self-was my treatment of others. Or perhaps I should call it neglect. I realized there were times friends came to me needing a sympathetic ear, which I had normally been in past, only to find someone with a sanctimonious, "I went to the school of hard knocks" attitude, ready to totally ignore them. This utter coarseness was not something I wanted. Thus, I began a journey to uncover something that I allowed the world to dim over time, which was my gentleness. I found that it actually takes a lot of strength to be gentle. Skeptical about this? Consider what is more difficult: to regard an issue with total indifference, or to regard it with grace, gentleness, compassion, and understanding.

One day, surfing the internet trying to find ways to restore my gentleness, I came across a quote on pain. It was Ijeoma Umebinyuo who wrote these words which I have carried with me for three years now:

"1. You must let the pain visit.

2. You must allow it to teach you.

3. You must not allow it to overstay."

While I recognize that there are times when circumstances are not as severe as they seem, there are definitely parts of life that call forth your pain and suffering. It is okay to be hurt by disparaging comments made toward you, it is okay to grieve the loss of a loved one, it is okay to feel the full extent of your disappointment and pain when you let yourself down or others let you down. It's okay to be stressed, to cry, to feel as though you are struggling. Furthermore, having these feelings and letting them take their course does not make you weak-- it makes you human, and quite frankly it makes you neurotypical.

What does not make you strong is being callous, that is, shutting your feelings down completely and "getting over it" as fast as you can. You won't grow any stronger if you do that, because as Ijeoma Umebinyuo said, you must let the pain visit and teach you. Ignoring the pain isn't allowing it to visit; not allowing the pain to visit means it cannot teach you. It is time to stop demonizing unpleasant feelings as they are a part of life; it is time to stop telling people they cannot grieve a part of their life because someone else has it worse. Above all, it should be recognized that being callous is doing nothing but running away from our issues; it is the opposite of confrontation, as well as the opposite of a solution. It is unhealthy. Tribulation is a necessary aspect of life, and with proper coping skills, I would even go so far as to say it is beneficial. I would say I subscribe to the school of thought that "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger", but only if I could add, "if we allow ourselves to feel the organic feelings that come along with such challenges". There is strength in gentleness, there is strength in compassion. There is power to be had from being in pain. There is no strength nor any honor in being cold and callous, though. Being deadened to the suffering of others and emotionally closed-off does not make you tough. Don't get it twisted: strength and callousness are not remotely the same.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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