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Keeping Others’ Pain from Becoming Personal

Sometimes, the most I can do to rebalance within is spend an hour soaking up Vitamin D with two of my favorite mentors.
Sometimes, the most I can do to rebalance within after spending time with loved ones in pain is to spend an hour soaking up Vitamin D on the lawn with two of my favorite mentors.

I have a handful of loved ones in my life right now who are experiencing longer-term painful circumstances.

In one case, the pain is medical. In one more, financial. In yet another, the pain is less well-defined as she wishes for (but day after day does not act to build) a life that feels like a better “fit” than the one she has now.

And it gets to me.

It all gets to me.

Sometimes their ongoing pain feels very, very personal.

I wake up at night worrying, or praying, or both.

When morning comes, they are right there on my mind.

Following visits and phone calls, I feel like I need to grieve and heal and rekindle hope – as if their pain is my pain.

It is.

Needless to say, this isn’t working well for me. 

I must meditate for longer each day, and in between, I must focus more intensely on remembering everything I’ve learned about empathy vs. codependency.

And I must work harder (while we are together or apart) to capture and hold on to the small bits of hope and light that persistently glitter like gold amidst an unhealthy heightened awareness of surrounding rubble.

I must fight – push BACK – against feeling guilty for feeling happy. I must fight against tamping down on my (still as yet newly learned) glass-half-full life outlook in order to better match my energy with theirs.

And I must fight – HARD – not to run back too readily to those old endless commiseration sessions when a “bad day” unfolds in my own life.

Sometimes I worry, if their pain becomes too very prolonged, what will happen to our bond? Will our friendship survive it – this persistent, never-ending stream of hardships, anger, regret, fear, and grief?

What will we have in common, if I at some point outgrow the initial struggles with debt, illness, rage, isolation, and other hardships that once bonded us?

What if things never get better in their lives, and I can’t seem to give up hoping life will look up for them, and it destroys us both?

Is there some way to preserve and express the love I feel for each one of these people without having to keep a foot planted in their world to do it?

I sure hope there is.

I think the hardest challenge I face in all this is, when I look deep down past the things they struggle with – the things they focus on as if their struggle + who they are = one and the same – I see such a beautiful person!

I see someone so precious and valuable with so much to offer.

Sometimes I want to just reach right in and drag that inner person out, kicking and screaming if need be, so they can meet each other.

I want to say, “This – THIS is who you ARE! This person – this being of light is the real YOU! You are NOT the collection of aches and pains and disappointments and regrets that you drag around with you like millstones so heavy you now need others to help you carry them.”

(Here, read: “lessons on codependency” from above.)


So I do what I can, talk to my mentor when I get off track and need to find True North for myself again, contemplate the conundrum that is the Serenity Prayer in the face of an actual pressing need to give up what I cannot control, and then put another foot in front of its mate.

This is the best I can do for today.

Today’s Takeaway: Can you think of loved ones in your life where you struggle or even struggle similarly to how I am struggling right now? What helps you in maintaining your love for them – and if possible, your connection with them – without getting dragged down and needing to “recover” from time spent with them? I would really appreciate any insights you would like to share!




Keeping Others’ Pain from Becoming Personal

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). Keeping Others’ Pain from Becoming Personal. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Jan 2015
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