Have you ever been surprised when someone shares a struggle that you also have? A moment when you find yourself thinking, “I thought it was just me.” This thought is usually followed by a feeling of relief. The realization that your response could be normal. Sometimes you even have the opportunity to connect with the other person and share feelings and possibly even help each other.
Feeling like you are the only one is a dark and lonely place to be. It is usually a place of no hope – a place of shame. I do not know why we tend to believe we are the only ones. Maybe it is a condition of being young? As I get older, the more I realize there is nothing new under the sun. Not sure about that? Try thinking of something crazy, off- the-wall, then search for it on the internet. Anyway, I do not know why, but I definitely thought I was the only one. Maybe this is because people are so good at hiding their dark places. Sure, people can be temperamental, moody and dark, but that could just be their personality, right? Or is there something else there. When we always put on our happy faces, other people tend to think that we really are happy all of the time – that we somehow have better lives with no challenges or adversities. Social media is chocked full with pictures of our friends at parties, with family, at the beach – lovely, beautiful places and many smiling faces. Of course their life must be better than mine! They get to go to Bermuda or Saint Thomas! Who gets to do that?!? Vacations on the beach? Not me! But this is just an illusion. Most people are not going to post about the argument they had with their spouse. They are not going to share how that trip to Bermuda led to a second mortgage on their home and the unending financial stress.
So what causes us to hide behind our fake smiles? Pride. We are afraid of anyone knowing that we have weaknesses. Shame. We are afraid of how people would judge us and find us wanting if they really knew us or our prior life experiences. Rejection. People are so quick to reject others that remind them of their own struggles and failures.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was verbally attacked by another student during lunch one day. We did not know each other. We had no classes together. We never spoke to one another. She just started yelling at me about how my life was so perfect. She made this assumption based on my nice clothes and the group of students with me at the table. The reality was that my aunt had bought me knew clothes because when I came to live with her, just months before, all I had were basically rags. This girl didn’t know that earlier that year I lost everything, and I was completely broken inside. And what about the other students? They were an amazingly nice group of kids who took in the new girl even though she was dreadfully shy. They were great friends, and I was blessed to have them. The angry girl made an assumption about me, and she was completely wrong. Though, her out-lashing at me led to a conversation where she learned the truth about me. She also discovered that she was not alone. As it would turn out, our struggles were very similar. My hope since that day is that she found the help she needed.
When we read the book by the cover, we miss the entire story. We also miss the opportunity to grow through the experiences of the characters.
When I was first working through the idea of writing down my own experiences, to share my challenge and my path to healing and wholeness, one person recommended that I include a section on healthy sharing. I struggled with their recommendation for years. What did they mean by healthy sharing? The suggestion alone seems like good advice. This person was meeting with me as a mentor. Their recommendation was directly related to how uncomfortable they were with my level of sharing. There have been experiences in my life that have left deep marks on who I am and how I interact with others. I have a strong belief that if you want to have a deep relation with me, you will need to understand some of those marks in order to understand me and my reactions to certain circumstances. How can you mentor someone if you do not know them? To some, healthy sharing is keeping the dark challenges of your life between you and your counselor. Unfortunately, this helps no one else.
Once I knew a young lady who was obviously being wrecked inwardly by some stress in her life. Yet, each day she pasted a fake smile on her face and pretended that she was fine. One day, I gained the courage to gently challenge her smile. At first she resisted being honest with me. Then she said, “you wouldn’t understand.” This led to further discussion where she discovered that I did understand. She had that moment of discovering she was not alone. She also now had a resource – someone who could relate to her struggles. She also had hope knowing my smile was real. What if I hadn’t worked up the courage to approach her? What if I kept hidden my shared experiences?
When we are open about our experiences, it affords others facing the same struggles the opportunity to reach out to someone who would understand. We were never meant to do life alone. We grow through relationships. This is where I believe “healthy” plays a very important role. We will only have healthy growth in healthy relationships. A person filled with hate or lost in their own despair, who was not found healing, will never be able to help you talk through your struggles. They may be able to understand; but they cannot help you walk a road they have never traveled. Another element of “healthy” sharing is trust. If you are searching for someone that may be able to help you with your struggles, they must be someone you can trust.