What is the pain that you keep to yourself?

An old man from the Super Nintendo title Radical Dreamers has built a wall around his inner turmoil
An old man from the Super Nintendo title Radical Dreamers has built a wall around his inner turmoil

Did ya miss me? It’s been a little while, huh! That’s because I’ve been on holiday in Japan for the last 3 weeks, seeing pretty much all the sights. I went to 10 of the cities thanks to my JR Pass – Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Tokyo, Sapporo, Otaru, Wakkanai, Aomori, Akita, and Hiroshima. What a great trip. I saw all the amazing scenery and all the amazing nerd stuff too. Hokkaido is one of the most amazing places I’ve seen in my whole life.

I’ve been a big fan of Japanese culture my whole life, and being able to take the opportunity for a holiday in Japan was surreal. Unforgettable experience for sure.

But I think one of the most unusual things I noticed was that many of the Japanese I encountered keep largely to themselves. They’re very well mannered and very intelligent, and very helpful when you need some directions, for sure. But often, it is not without prompting. Of their own volition, many Japanese keep to themselves and do activities that are usually for one. Many restaurants have cubicle walls around seats of a bench, Internet cafes have a room per computer, and even in more public places, people stick to their own lives for the most part. Arcades and pachinko parlours are massively popular activities for one that are completely full of people throughout the day and night.

Now there’s nothing wrong with being a bit more quiet or reserved. Myself being an introvert can appreciate that. Heck, I travelled around Japan by myself for 3 weeks, I can certainly see the value in taking some time for yourself.

But the reason it really stood out to me is that I am quite familiar with Japanese TV shows and games. I love a good anime and a good J-RPG, especially the ones that have fantastic stories. Often the stories that are told are of profound emotion and coping with difficult circumstances. Characters who lose their mother or father, who experience numerous breakups, who can’t let others in to their lives (like several characters in Radical Dreamers above), who wrestle with the need to be forgiven and to earn their way back into people’s lives. All of these stories are hugely successful in reaching their initial Japanese audience, and even greater at reaching the global market (probably for the same reasons).

It made me wonder if the authors who write these complex stories of pain and loss, of sickness and heartbreak, of confusion and lack of direction – I wonder if they were some among the seemingly silent I encountered across almost every city I visited. So much going on inside, that it is often through a game or a TV show that they are free to explore the deeper issues they face – as are their players and viewers.

But isn’t this true of every culture, I wonder. Back in my Australian life, our “silence” around big issues takes a different form. It’s not always a physical silence – often the big issues in our lives are silenced through other means. Such as being super busy all the time. Such as small talk. Such as shutting people out as soon as they get close. Such as avoiding bigger topics. Such as drinking. Such as clubbing. Such as blasting our brains with other images so we don’t have to stare with the ones that lie in wait for us.

I wonder what your silent pain might be. I wonder what it is that you struggle with, that you’ve locked away behind your wall, that you don’t share with anyone. I wonder what lies behind the strong exterior, the professionalism, the compassion for others. I wonder what events you may be trying to avoid recounting.

I guess a more psychologically appropriate term would be the masks we wear. We all have a certain presentation we display to different groups of people.

And yet all of us are crying out for someone to come with the right key to unlock our fears and failures and make us whole again.

Isn’t this one of the biggest driving forces in the search for romance and love? People looking for that perfect man to break through the walls of distrust and disarray and sweep you off your feet? To carry you away from the pain of a horrible father or a neglectful upbringing? Or for the perfect woman – the one who’ll always be there for you when you feel like no one wants to stay. When you feel like all you’ve done is fail through life and just want someone to appreciate just something about who you are.

And yet no one would know the bleeding that is happening in front of them as they converse with you as you cringe behind your smile and peaceful exterior.

When a door is locked, when a wall is built, there are two ways to get through it. First is for someone exterior to come with the right key and open the door.

But the second is for the person on the inside to open up.

Are you struggling in silence merely because you’re staying silent? Do you shut people out and then blame them for not trying harder or not being able to deal with your pain?

Many relationships, whether friends, dating, married, parent/child, whatever, are cut short or made more shallow than they could be by the person on the inside of the door. You may find that your healing would come so much faster if you let someone know what’s going on behind the façade.

Tell God what’s going on. What a perfect way to start than with someone who already knows exactly what’s in there. But He often can’t help us process things that we refuse to talk to him about. It’s like you break your leg in front of someone. You both know something is wrong. You both know there’s a lot of pain there. But if you refuse to let the other person talk to you and help you, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to help you. Not impossible, but you may end up hurting yourself even more by refusing the help. The voice of God once given permission in your life is a healing balm that is unmatched.

And tell other people too. We were made for each other. We need other people in our lives to help us make sense of the things that don’t make sense to us. To help us through our relationship struggles, our career disappointments, our feeling of loss and bewilderment. Instead of waiting for someone else to come with the right key, maybe assist those around you by recognizing the door is locked from the inside.

What is it that you would say before the words, “I’ve never told anyone that before”?

But back on the topic of keys, let’s be people who recognize that we may not be facing the real person when we enter conversation. Sure, they sound professional and reasonable, but perhaps the behaviour you’re seeing on the outside has a deeper story than what has been said. When you encounter a locked door, it is rarely the right thing to just try to barge it down – you may hurt yourself, and the person inside.

Try listening.

Listening is a dying artform in some ways. We’re so fast to share our opinion and tell our story and offer our comment and inject our criticism. Cause we know better, right? Well, maybe it’s not always the right thing to do with a situation. Maybe giving the other person some room to breathe and the comfort of your attention will go lightyears to their recovery and healing.

I guess in summary the way to deal with silent pain is to remove the silence. In removing the silence, may you also see the removal of the pain in turn. Let your life breathe and be open and free. Don’t keep deeper things in the dark your entire life.

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