Stopping to Feel in Order to Heal

I will be revisiting older content through the New Year as I focus on the two personal projects I have excitedly undertaken. It’s fun having secrets. These projects aren’t huge. One really is a basic step I should have already taken but never prioritized.  The other is an endeavor I’ve been excited to implement on my own–at least this aspect of it. It is important for me to work independently periodically, especially since most of my work is completed with and for others. In a way, Project 2 is a relief project I planned about two years ago but knew it wasn’t the right time. I don’t mean to be cryptic. I learned years ago that I have a tendency to lose interest in creative endeavors if I feel too many eyes are watching what I’m doing.

So, as I plug along I will be sharing some content that has been loved but in the last year has fallen under the radar. The first is a piece I wrote close to the relaunch of this site. I was just getting my legs under me when it comes to tackling issues of compassion and communication. I hope you enjoy it!

Trauma Trumping

I was in a conversation the other day in which a friend was mentioned. She is in poor general health, struggling with chronic fatigue and a host of other pain issues. I was speaking with her mother, asking after her and expressing a wish for ease in her life. Her mother said, “I don’t know why she has these problems. Her father and I don’t have any of them.”

Okay. I can roll with that. But I know this person fairly well. Enough to love her. And I know she went through some shit in her life. So I say, “I know she went through some trauma as a child. That can affect how our bodies heal.”

Her mother says, “Yes, but so did I, and my trauma was much worse.”


I really want to shake people who trump a person’s trauma with their own. Instead, I imagine Keanu Reeves because he was foxy back in the day. Am I right? He is also a person who has been through some serious shit but keeps on chugging.

But back to her mother saying, “Yes, but so did I, and my trauma was much worse.” Let’s ignore for a moment that the woman I was talking to is crippled periodically by anxiety and depression. Let’s set aside that she is in denial of her own needs –because she is. It’s common for us to exist this way. Instead, let’s focus on this horrible statement she made, albeit with no ill intent.

“My trauma is worse than her trauma.”

That’s effectively the same as, “Suck it up, sweetheart.”

Or, “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Stop for a second and recall the last time you told someone they “didn’t need to feel that way.” Pretty recent, right?

Trauma Trumping

Hey, I don’t know this woman’s story. I barely know her daughter’s. The surface I have scratched tells me that both of them are carrying some compelling baggage, and that mine is minuscule compared to theirs. But comparisons aren’t helpful. Yes, we all have shit. Some is piled deeper than others. But some folks can extract their feet from their boots and slap barefoot over that shit, while others of us sink deeper and struggle with the muck for a lifetime (or longer, depending on your spiritual views). In fact, there is an entire continent of humans today currently mired in worse shit than I will ever face. That doesn’t change that my experiences were painful or that I had to heal from them emotionally before I could be physically healthy.

That’s what we’re talking about here for my friend. She has to heal emotionally before she will find full physical relief (or any, because we are not all capable of attaining “full” physical health even when we are mentally well). See what Science has to say about this! Much of her exhaustion is from the stress of the experiences she keeps inside, maybe because she has voices in her ear invalidating her life experience by telling her she shouldn’t be feeling what she is feeling.

Please don’t do this. Don’t try to make someone feel better by telling them it could be worse. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in where I have been given the same message.

I have a request: the next time you find yourself telling someone they don’t need to feel the way they do, stop yourself. Apologize. Recognize that they have every right to feel the way they do. Say instead, “That sounds painful” or “I can hear that was hard for you” or “I’m sorry that happened.” A hand on the shoulder can say as much if silence is more comfortable. Let the person feel what they are feeling in that moment.

The thing is, quitting the feeling doesn’t end the pain. Instead, we carry it around while it festers, eventually popping back up later to confound us because we have no idea where it came from or what triggered it. Then we have a much longer process of rediscovery and re-experience in order to feel what we weren’t allowed to in the first place.

Stopping to feel allows us to heal. Say that to yourself. Please, please remember. I made it rhyme so it’s easy.

Stopping to feel allows us to heal.

Carry that forward, friends. Let me know how it goes.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

4 Discussion to this post

  1. Richard Heilbrunn says:

    Shawna ~ thanx for this in the Spirit of Family and Thanksgiving. This piece has truly helped me find understanding and compassion for family members who I have been unable to comfort by sharing my personal challenges. I can Feel It now that I have stopped to Heal ~

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    • Shawna Ayoub Ainslie says:

      Thank YOU, Richard! I am very happy this can support you. <3 It is very natural to extend empathy by articulating common ground. Holding space for others instead can be as powerful as when we do for so ourselves in meditation.

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  2. Katy says:

    I used to attend CoDA (Codependents Anonymous) meetings on a regular basis. The way I learned the same thing was, “You have to feel it, if you want to heal it.” Validation from others works wonders, too. I’m still healing from the trauma of many kinds of childhood abuse. Feeling the shit sucks… But I certainly feel better than I used to!

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