Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Hidden Pain

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 17, 2015

Pain, at least the pain that I deal with, is mostly hidden; hidden from others, and, at times, hidden from the patient having the pain. The trappings of a good life, food, shelter, friends, careers,  do not speak to the internal world of anxiety and insecurity which plague people, resulting in the inevitable shock when that person “throws his life away” by picking harmful relationships and/or spiraling down into substance abuse. The surprise is not that the person has given up all that he has worked for, the surprise is that no one saw it coming; or at least no one said they saw it coming. Steely, twenty-year old female, comes to mind. Her family is “good” meaning that her parents work hard and they have a nice house. Her older sister is a physician and “doing well” by Steely’s account. Steely, on the other hand, has painful memories of her father hitting her mother and her mother hitting her father, in return. Although her sister seemed to “not care” this was happening, Steely felt like she lead a double life; the life her friends thought she had and the life she actually lived. She could not disclose her parents’ behavior because that would shame her whole family. She was alone and isolated in her fears and her confusion. “Why would people who are married hurt each other like that?” She would ask herself, but have no answer. As a result, Steely learned not to trust anyone and so she led a double life. She pretended to care about her friends, while at the same time, she kept herself at arm’s distance. As time went on, Steely dropped out of college, chose a series of “loser boyfriends” and to the surprise of her family, she has no future plans. Steely feels, as she reports to me, that witnessing her parents be physically and emotionally abusive to one another has left permanent scars of distrust and pessimism. “Life is never what it seems,” she says, with a coldness that is penetrating. Working with her inner pain, with her history of childhood trauma, is the beginning of unraveling her double life, and making it a single, honest life, with deep struggles and confusion. The unfolding honesty of her childhood is a healing step, even though the harsh reality does not change. Once again, the power of listening deeply allows for a beginning to the journey of creating a cohesive narrative, and in so doing the beginning of healing.

2 Responses to “Hidden Pain”

  1. Shelly said

    In my opinion, Steely’s decision to keep herself at arm’s distance and to “pretend to care about her friends,” was her own decision and was not a result of what happened at home. Why is it not acceptable to say that this is part of Steely’s personality–to distance herself from others, and not to blame her home environment for her lack of future plans and problems with boyfriends. Perhaps Steely can learn in therapy that her parents still cared about HER, and the reasons why they chose to stay together in spite (or because of) of having a difficult marriage? Almost everyone in life has things that occur in their homes which they feel that their peers wouldn’t approve of. Of course this blog is about Steely and her feelings, so we hope that she can heal. But personally, I don’t see why she needed to be false in every aspect of her life, including to herself.

    • Steely never learned how to be authentic, perhaps because of the secrets kept at home. This is speculation, of course, not to blame her home environment, but to help her understand why she is having such a difficult time enjoying her life. Understanding is not blaming. It is just the first step towards healing. Thanks.

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