Anything we are uncomfortable dealing with we as a society we create a stigma around it. We shun it, ignore it, change the subject, respond with pat answers that push it away instead of facing our own discomfort.
How about grief - this makes people so uncomfortable, we understand that when someone dies people are going to be sad, we are going to be sad. But there is pattern we have established and any deviation from it we run up against the wall of stigma. We have a funeral or memorial after that we want it to go away, we want to be done with the sad. And if people don't react the way we expect or maybe carry on "too long" with their grief, we become annoyed, or we spend less time with them because we don't want to hear about "Bob" or "Cathy" again. We also put a lot of pressure on ourselves and expect to "move on" and are ashamed to show how sad we still are over the loss.
Why? why do we need to hide from the pain of loss? Because it isn't going to bring them back, of course it isn't, grieving isn't really about the person who passed it's about us living with loss. My mom lost her younger sister and mom very close together. It's been three years and she is still feeling these losses deeply. Yet she gets embarrassed if she shows the pain when talking about them as if their is a time limit to her grief. But I just remind her that she loves them and that is never embarrassing.
Now I'm a true crime fanatic-I know as a middle aged white woman that is very cliche but hey we like what we like. Anyways I always shake my head when a neighbor, relative or cop says someone isn't grieving like they should. Seriously? We don't need that kind of pressure when our hearts are broken wondering if we are reacting the way we "should"!
Another stigma - infidelity! How many of my fellow betrayed have kept the betrayal a secret because it would blow up their lives if everyone knew. I have! It's a deep dark secret that we are trying to heal from and hide all at once. That takes a lot of energy.
Why keep it a secret? Mostly because the way we would be treated by our friends and family would be permanently altered and usually not for the better. Especially if the betrayed spouse doesn't react the way those people think they should. The message is overwhelmingly to be the amazing Angela Basset torching his shit on the front lawn and moving on. If we stay we are supposed to shut the fuck up because we've made our bed and we better lie in it and not look for sympathy when he cheats again. Also their is a stigma on the spouse who is betrayed of being deficient. That we somehow caused the problem, we drove our spouse into the arms of someone else and were an idiot for not realizing it.
We also keep the secret because the way in which the straying spouse is treated would be changed. They would always be under suspicion all the time or even seen as a possible target for others own desire to cheat. We would be the topic of gossip and speculation or pity. Our kids could be opened up to taunting or ridicule.
All because an affair is about the secret and shameful - instead of our culture embracing that all relationships can have problems and finding solutions should be the norm. But we don't embrace this, we are supposed to fall in love and live happily ever after and anything less is failure. If we believed we could do preventative upkeep on our relationships with out our social circle calling us into question I'd put real money down that there would be less infidelity.
Finally I want to discuss mental health - this is a battle I am fighting fiercely right now and have run head long into this stigma. It's fascinating because I wrote a blog post about the struggle and it was met with utter silence, not a comment, not an encouragement, not a questions, not even an insult or argument just as if it didn't exist. this lets me know that certain levels of emotion are allowed but deep struggle is a step to far.
What scares us about mental illness? The mind runs our whole system and if there seems to be a glitch we have a sense of panic. I like to think of it when you start to hear your car make a random noise and you have that little heart flutter of "oh god what is that"? But we ignore it because we don't know what it is and we don't know how to fix it. Then one day we go out to the car and it makes a terrible noise, sputters, and stops working and we are totally surprised. We knew there was a problem but it was so much easier to ignore what we don't understand or have the skills to fix.
In the psychology world the mind is a bit of a black box. Info goes into the box and then info comes out. Now as long as what comes out it closely related to what is expected and related to what went in everything is fine. However when info goes in and what comes out is not the expected we have a problem. The issue is we don't know what is happening to the info while it's in the box. We as people and a society are afraid of what we don't understand so we turn away from those whose black box is working differently. We don't want to be responsible. It's someone else's problem.
But here is the thing we all of these, we don't need to take on the responsibility of fixing or taking care of anyone dealing with any of these issues. Most of the folks experiencing these issues just want to be seen and be acknowledged. So if you encounter an individual dealing with something that makes you uncomfortable just take a moment to check yourself. It's ok to admit you are uncomfortable and don't know how to help, just let them know you love them right where they are at. That little act of kindness will go a long way.
Let's tear down these walls. If we except that being a person is tough, interacting with other people is emotional, if we take the shame away from having awkward moments and deep emotional reactions it won't be as tough. So if you are grieving, struggling or trapped in the secrets of fear and shame I am here for you. I won't be able to fix it but I will hold space for you while you experience it!