Sharing The Burden

As a clinical psychologist, I am often asked how I “do what I do,” in other words how do I navigate sitting with others’ pain and suffering and mental health challenges on a regular basis. Oddly, often, I am asked this from clients. I have found that many of the those who I sit with in therapy sessions frequently bump into misunderstanding and invalidation in their own lives by people who genuinely care about them. But, instead of receiving the understanding and acceptance they need, they tend to get unsolicited and often simplistic advice or attempts to “fix” them.

One of the great failures of our society has been to try to silence pain. In no means am I trying to glorify suffering. I do not hold it up as some moral high ground; suffering for its own sake is not a noble calling. Our first parents were not called into the world to suffer, but to commune with and glorify the One who crafted, named and breathed life into them. But pain, suffering and limitations are realities of our human existence; realities that will affect all of us at some time – and those we care about.

But it can be difficult to know how to respond to another’s pain and suffering. All-too-often there is part of human nature that desires to bring a measure of the Protestant Work Ethic and Prosperity Gospel into our encounters with those who are hurting. At the core of these theories, which form the basis for much of our Western cultural identity, is the belief that ultimately we are at least partly responsible for what happens to us. Another part of this belief system is that eventually, even visibly pointless suffering will lead to some personal benefit later on, for example, in the form of some sort of tangible blessing, a new opportunity, purity of character or newfound strength. Collectively and individually we want to believe that we are basically safe, that life is designed to be basically good, and that should anything happen to go wrong in the mix somehow, healing happens. And not only that it happens, but that it can happen quickly and fully.

Therefore, we often are afraid of our own vulnerability and limits in knowing how to help someone. Perhaps the greatest injury we collectively commit in dealing with people who are in pain is to look for differences between ourselves and them. Partly this is because we’re afraid that if we acknowledge suffering, such as anxiety, depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, pain, or marginalization in another person, we will be forced to accept that it could happen to us. And this possibility is frightening, even overwhelming, for us.

But, suffering invites us to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and to seek intimate engagement with the One who crafts our deepest self. In the midst of brokenness and loss, we are rendered powerless, our usual patterns of self-sufficiency fail us. Certainly, the Psalms repeatedly testify to the inter-connectedness of joy and sorrow, praise and despair, contentment and longing. Without pain, we do not need to force ourselves to look beyond the darkened glass of what “is” into the overwhelming radiance of what “is to come.” Its very nature invites us to reach into the deepest resonance of what it means to be human, but too often we run from these invitations, for ourselves but especially for those we care about. When we take on the task of entering into the lives of others, particularly those who are suffering, we cannot help but tap into the spiritual. And this ultimately is the goal of connecting with those who are hurting. When we can listen, and be present with the suffering of others, we are “bearing one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) connecting with others as we are called to do. In this, we are asked to take an active role, not to solve others’ pain – although that is appropriate work – but to enter into it and share it with them. This is often where healing begins.  

Dr. Kathleen (Kathie) Hayden works with women and men from approximately age 18 through all stages of adulthood. Kathie has also received state-certified specialized training in domestic violence counseling and completed Illinois Certification as a Domestic Violence Professional (ICDVP) in 2008. She is also the director of our Catalyst program, which is a Partial Hospital Adult Day and Intensive Outpatient program helping those that struggle with depression, anxiety and more.