Evolution of the Self

On the paradoxes of personality

Why We Hide Emotional Pain

Who hasn't had the experience of asking someone whether anything is wrong--for it's blatantly obvious from their expression or tone of voice that they're upset--only to have them respond: "No, I'm fine."? Read More

Missing a Key Factor: Piling On

Actually, hiding ones feelings about a partner’s chronic illness — whether mental or physical — makes a certain degree of psychological sense.

The fact is, no matter what losses the well spouse feels, the well spouse reckons that his or her losses don’t rival the losses of the ill one. The well spouse is healthy. The ill spouse is sick. The well spouse can do everything that he or she always did, and think everything that he or she always did, and feel everything normally. The ill spouse, not so much. I can’t imagine a single well spouse would honestly and happily trade places with the ill spouse for all the money in the world.
Great piece, but you're missing a key factor. That is, the person who is suffering emotional pain because they don't want to feel like they're piling-on in the emotional life of the person to whom they might share.

I see this a lot with well spouses of chronically ill partners.
To be angry or sad in front of your ill spouse? To show the aggression that you actually feel toward the illness? To share honestly that your anger and sadness, and depression and frustration and feeling of hopelessness, comes about because of them, in large part? No way.

Talk about emotional piling on!

And sadly, from what I hear from many couples where there’s a sick spouse and a well spouse, the sick spouse does react to the well spouse being honest as emotional piling on.

So after an attempt or two? The well spouse shuts up, out of self-protection.

Call it, altruistic shutting up.

It also makes sense to hide feelings from abusers

My mom was emotionally abusive. Hiding what you liked, dislike was a way to not have what you liked taken away.

Hiding your feeling by being non-responsive to attacks was a great way to not let her know what your real buttons are, so she couldn't hurt you more.

There is a danger: the only way to really lie is to believe it yourself. So at some point you have to untangle from your own lies to yourself. But it does work as a survival mechanism when necessary.

I have alos found that it's hard to explain how you feel to people. They don't always want to hear the truth. Why aren't you seeing your family for christmas: "My mom hates the fact that I exist. She's never told me why, but just the sight of me makes her aggressive." The answer: "It can't be true, all mothers love their children. She loves you and you know that you love her too". The more you try to explain, the more people will tell you that you are wrong. It just gets frustrating.

Except the other day, an old neighbor contacted me on Facebook. She said: "I go back sometimes, I never see your mom out, just your dad, sometimes he goes for walks. You know, I only played outside with you, because and didn't want to go inside, I was just so afraid of your mom, she froze me!" I smiled, I guess you had to be there to understand.

There is no way to explain fear of your mother to others. They just don't get it. Just like it took me many many years to understand why grown up people would get spaghetti sauce from their moms. And it's not the explanation that helped, it's seeing it in action. Really, there was no danger in accepting spaghetti sauce from their moms, some moms are just being nice for the sake of it. There is no price to pay for accepting it.

When your down in not the right time to help others become empathic. It's time to auto-protect until you build back your health to go out and enjoy sharing the beautiful summer.

Yes, there are times when it's just not very prudent to show your feelings.

Thanks for your wise comment. Given the focus of my post, I really couldn't get into all the circumstances where it would be foolish (or worse) to expose your feelings to another--though I did include the caveat that it's not always appropriate to "publicly" divulge feelings. But your comment is very well taken, gives a good example as to when it IS necessary to hold in feelings, and should be helpful to other readers, too. For as important as it may be to share oneself deeply with others--for one's physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health--one still needs to exercise a certain caution in doing so.

I appreciate your article and

I appreciate your article and how it encourages one to sort of beef up one's inner defenses to the point where one could cry in front of another and not worry about what they think.

I would just like to add one reason I never wanted to cry in front of men (I'm a woman), is that it seems to be a common belief that women use tears to manipulate men.

If I'm crying, I'm not manipulating, but the thought of breaking down (looking foolish and unattractive to boot) and THEN being accused of faking the emotion to some degree is just more than I can stand.... so I rarely cry. I don't cry in front of other women, either if I can avoid it.... I don't like being that vulnerable.

Your article has given me another way of looking at the situation.


Open and Shut (Out)

I enjoyed reading your article. As a human, I have used these tactics quite a bit! I have also spent a great deal of time and energy trying to be open, vulnerable, and use disclosure in my relationships which is where I'm enountering problems. It seems the more up front and honest I try to be, the more others retreat using the ways you describe in your article. I seem to have "lost" several friendships in where I felt I was honest about my thoughts and feelings and now...crickets. They say in the moment that they understand but it somehow creates a rift and consequently, withdrawl. How does one wishing to create closeness through vulnerability, openness, and disclosure not offend and "run-off" the other person and more importantly, how do I continue to want to be open when I feel so rejected for it?

The issue is appropriateness

Self-disclosure is important, just as it's important to allow yourself to be vulnerable in relationships. However, if you're being upfront and sincere is hurting your relationships, it may be because your self-disclosure and/or candidness is somehow premature, too intimate, or too intense.

What kind of family did you grow up in? That's where we learn what's appropriate and what's not. if your family wasn't "normal" in this respect, it may be that you're not sufficiently "practiced" in reading social cues that might tell you how far you can safely go with divulging confidential matters to others. In which case getting some counseling relating to boundaries and the development of better interpersonal skills might be invaluable.

being honest with feelings

This is an intelligent conversation; thank you. I'm adding something about my late mother's relationship with her third husband. He divorced her at age 84 (he was much younger) and at that time, there were feelings disclosed. She suffered from chronic back pain and he said, listening to her complaints was unpleasant and depressing. She might have been less shocked by the divorce if he was honest all along. On his side, he said she never remembered (denied) what he said if it undermined her reality. I don't feel close to someone who isn't honest. Better to have real communication. In my mother's case, she had trouble being open and exploring feelings with her husband (and me).

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Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., who holds doctorates in English and Psychology, is a clinical psychologist and author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy.


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