How I Learned to Stop Absorbing Others' Pain

I'm telling my story because I think it might help someone who's suffering as I did. I'm going to talk to you about how my life was so full of external pressures that they got the better of me. I'm also going to tell you how I managed to feel good again.
How I Learned to Stop Absorbing Others' Pain

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 28 February, 2023

It never rains but it pours. This is the saying that comes to mind when we’re on the receiving end of pressure from all sides. It’s the kind of suffering that tests our adaptive abilities. Some of us embrace it without help. However, it took me several years of therapy to understand (not only from a logical perspective but to internalize it as well) that forgetting about myself to help others wasn’t an act of courage and strength. In effect, it was a mental strategy that set my mind in motion when I didn’t want to face myself.

Unfortunately, I learned this during one of the most difficult periods of my life. Even today, I have scars that I still notice when I touch myself in that particular area. But, although learning through my pain wasn’t ideal, in reality, I’m now where I want to be. Here, I’ll tell you about the potholes I found along the way.

Sad man

Absorbing others’ pain

I’ve always been an empathetic person who focuses on others. That said, I’m also stubborn and tend to try and avoid my own pain. This combination is manageable on a day-to-day basis, but not particularly effective for the times when the environment really tests my mental health.

For instance, when my father had his first stroke, I only allowed myself to feel just a little bit of pain so I could keep going. When my mother returned from the hospital, I decided that my role would be to take care of her. What else could I do? After all, she was having to take care of my father: changing his position in bed, changing his bedding, feeding him, etc

That’s how I started absorbing others’ pain. My life consisted of supporting my mother while studying for a degree.

The pain built up

My father’s repeated strokes became a painful routine, a downward slide toward the inevitable, but for which there were no dates marked on the calendar. Meanwhile, I got my first job. I was proud as it was the job I wanted. However, I didn’t see what was coming.

In fact, with little experience, I was in charge of a team that had to develop a project designed by me. But, this achievement turned into a 12-hour working day. I even had to continue answering questions on vacation. In effect, it was abuse disguised as work pressure. But, with my bedridden father at home and having to deal with my mother’s feelings of increasing devastation, when was there any time for me?

I persevered. Work became a refuge from the suffering at home while home was a respite from the horrors of work. In reality, this dynamic was drowning me, despite my attempts to resist and to continue caring for those I cared about.

Therapy, better late than never

By the time I decided to go to therapy, my father had already passed away. Having supported my mother through my father’s illness, I now supported her in her grief.  It was a long and intense mourning, which also left scars on me, but that I didn’t want to deal with. After all, I knew that if I fell apart, it’d be forever. I wouldn’t be able to function again.

At least, that’s what I believed. I was existing on four hours of sleep a night, working, and caring for my mother who seemed even sadder than usual. In effect, she was sensing my own sorrows and was determined to help me, but I’d reached the point of no return. I could only keep propelling myself forward.

My partner at the time wasn’t much help either, partly because of their lack of empathy and partly because of my obtuseness.

Finally, two arrows managed to pierce my armor: medical leave and my mother’s insistence that I see a psychologist. Reluctant at first, I ended up letting a professional help me reorganize my thoughts and give them a name: depression. This diagnosis, although I’d already sensed it, was accompanied by what I needed: thought restructuring, improvement tools, and relief.

Patient in psychological therapy

How I overcame the pain

Why didn’t I go to therapy earlier? The truth is that the metaphor of falling in the mud and getting straight back up again doesn’t seem to be entirely adequate to describe a process of improvement. When you fall in the mud, gravity is so effective that, after an instant of feeling shocked, you try to get back to normal. However, when you experience so much pain at the same time, your fall is so gradual that it feels like it’s never going to end. Even though it’s been ages since you first fell.

It’s difficult to take the step of going to therapy. As humans, we have an almost magical ability to get used to pain. Indeed, you always feel that you can squeeze a little more out of yourself and don’t need any help. You mustn’t let this happen. Don’t allow pain to overwhelm you and don’t absorb the pain of others. Just give them your hand so they can get up on their own.

If these kinds of external pressures are overwhelming, don’t hesitate to ask for help in managing your pain. Indeed, it’s highly likely that your suffering has a name. Moreover, you’re not the only person who’s ever dealt with pain, suffering, a toxic partner, or anything else I could mention.

There’s an old Spanish saying “The Evil of many is the consolation of fools”. It means that only a fool would find consolation in the fact that he’s not the only one to be suffering. It’s worth remembering.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Romero, V., & Rodríguez, J. A. C. (2016). Duelo, ansiedad y depresión en familiares de pacientes en una unidad de cuidados paliativos a los dos meses de la pérdida. Psicooncología: investigación y clínica biopsicosocial en oncología13(1), 23-37.
  • Harasemiuc, V. A., & Díaz Bernal, J. R. (2013). Evidencia científica de la relación entre acoso laboral y depresión. Medicina y seguridad del trabajo59(232), 361-371.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.