Friday, April 22, 2011

Do You Own Your Pain?

The following is an entry from the book The Inner Voice Of Love by the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen. The entries within this book were written during a time of major depression and darkness in Henri's life. He wrote them as personal journals. I have a few thoughts of my own after this excerpt...

Own Your Pain

You wonder whether it is good to share your struggles with others, especially with those to whom you are called to minister. You find it hard not to mention your own pains and sorrows to those you are trying to help. You feel that what belongs to the core of your humanity should not be hidden. You want to be a fellow traveler, not a distant guide.

The main question is "Do you own your pain?" As long as you do not own your pain - that is, integrate your pain into your way of being in the world - the danger exists that you will use the other to seek healing for yourself. When you speak to others about your pain without fully owning it, you expect something from them that they cannot give. As a result, you will feel frustrated, and those you wanted to help will feel confused, disappointed, or even further burdened.

But when you fully own your pain and do not expect those to whom you minister to alleviate it, you can speak about it in true freedom. Then sharing your struggle can become a service; then your openness about yourself can offer courage and hope to others.

For you to be able to share your struggle as a service, it is also essential to have people to whom you can go with your own needs. You will always need safe people to whom you can pour out your heart. You will always need people who do not need you but who can receive you and give you back to yourself. You will always need people who can help you own your pain and claim your struggle.

Thus the core question in your ministry is "Is my sharing of my struggle in the service of the one who seeks my help?" This question can only be answered yes when you truly own your pain and expect nothing from those who seek your ministry.


I have often in my life been one to "not" own my pain and when in relationships or friendships it oozes out like a festering wound and I expect my friend/partner to "fix" my pain. More and more I'm realizing that it is not anyone's job, not my friends, not my partners, to take away my pain. I have written about this recently, but I think that it is such a part of being human to have an aching, a loneliness, a kind of unquenchable thirst. These are cravings that are pointers, pointers toward God (or whatever you may call that "something More." Because of a childhood where I didn't receive the kind of consistent love that I should have, I have often been too needy. It's a big step when I realized that no human being can take away that pain that I feel. It's an ongoing struggle.

But neither do I think that we have to be a fortress where we can't let our vulnerability or pain show. We are only human, we do not have to be perfect! If I can realize that I'm a human being who has pain and can be honest about that, then I can love a person/people without needing them to completely take away my pain. I agree with what Nouwen says when he suggests having objective people around you who know you and can support you, help you, and give you back to yourself.

But you know what, one thing I'm thinking tonight is that I don't have to be a f@#&ing saint either. I can realize that I have a lot pain without heaping all of it onto another.

Another thing I'm thinking is that you know what, it's ok to get some comfort and relief from another human being. That's only natural. There are so many times when all I want is simply a caress of the hand or the touch of somebody's skin. Simple, but so healing. I think I am kind of a mystic and I also think that I think too much. It's okay to need other people, to an extent.

So yes, realize and own your pain, seek out friends or professionals to whom you can pour your pain out to, but also know that you don't have to be a saint or know it all in order to receive healing or love from another person.


Mark Andrew