Secondhand hurt

Written by Wizzy

Do you ever find yourself being overly cautious when entering a situation not because of your own experience, but because you’ve already been forewarned through someone else's? Think about it. Ever watch a scary movie and yell at the screen telling the character to not go into the half-open door because they don’t need to actually walk through it to know there’s nothing good waiting for them on the other side? Let’s apply that concept to relationships.

I have been surrounded by incredible women my entire life. They have taught me everything I know about relationships. I’ve watched and observed their every move. I’ve played dress up with their clothes and makeup, and in essence, have also played dress up with their experiences-- both the good and the bad.

I can’t say I’ve ever been cheated on, but I’ve been around so many women who have, it feels like I have too. I’ve never been in love, but I’ve had enough heartaches and heartbreaks to last me a lifetime. I’ve never had a failed marriage but I’ve felt the pain of divorce. All of it unintentionally handed down by the women around me. As a result, it would make sense to only proceed with caution when it comes to relationships. For others like myself, however, sometimes you don’t really proceed. Instead, you hit the breaks and bust a U-turn because you already know the bumpy road ahead is not worth traveling on.

These experiences serve as cautionary tales, that often influence both good and bad decision making.

Although I’ve yet to enter a serious committed relationship of my own, the resistance to doing so out of fear of what can happen has been a result of what I consider second hand hurt.

I’ve had my heart broken before ever falling in love. It broke when I watched my dad walk out on our family, breaking my mother's heart. It broke again watching my sisters go through their first serious break ups and being their shoulders to cry on.

I was cheated on while being single. I experienced infidelity over and over again. I’ve seen so many women get cheated on, I began to question if monogamy was only a myth that went entirely against our animal nature.

I’ve filed for divorce without ever being married. After my mother found the strength to love again and the relationship ended in divorce, it was my responsibility to help her file the paperwork. Divorce hurts. Although I applaud my mother for taking a chance and leaving an unhealthy relationship, divorce hurts. Watching vows break is traumatizing.

In all of these situations, I was able to keep it together for my mom, sisters, cousins, best friends etc. because the reality is, their experiences were not about me. They were the ones having to go through the healing process, and it was their relationships that were ending, creating a new normal in their everyday lives. I didn’t think these experiences would have any effect on me, because after all, the women in my family are all “built Ford tough”--we can handle anything and everything that comes our way with a complete disregard for the mental and emotional trauma that comes with it. Strength is not only demonstrated by powering through the bad and the ugly, but there is also strength in asking for help and self-care.

What I and many others fail to acknowledge is that I did go through these experiences and as a result would need to go through my own healing process. Although not being the one to receive the greatest blow, these shared experiences did contribute to a repository of bad memories that resulted in my own internalized feelings of anger, betrayal and exhaustion that I needed to address if I wanted to have healthy, happy relationships in the future. Failed relationships don’t become the exceptions but rather become normalized and somehow become a rule. A right of passage almost. Signaling to women everywhere that you need to kiss frogs in order to find a prince. What’s crazy about that is it’s not true at all. Sleeping Beauty just slept and her prince found her. We do not have to accept pain in order to find happiness. That’s a cultural narrative we need to reject.

I’ve watched the women in my life bounce back unapologetically and that’s something worth admiring, however, as they’ve moved on with no regrets, I can’t help but always be on the defense, preparing for the next broken heart, failed relationship, traumatic experience, etc. Happiness is selfish. When relationships are great, we tend to not lean on our support system. The tribe becomes peripheral. But when things go left, the tribe goes on a recon mission to find the best way to retrieve the wounded soldier. We often process pain selfishly, meaning, we only really see how we were affected and our own abilities to get through and persevere. What I’ve found after 20+ years of witnessing women in pain it’s rare, as the support system, conversations are never had about the PTSD the tribe endoured while completing the mission.

Secondhand hurt is real and it has real impact on mental and emotional health resulting in fear of commitment, paranoia, and heartache. I’m not citing the CDC, or WebMD for this diagnosis because the symptoms are often suppressed and left undetected.

A lot of us don’t prioritize taking care of our own mental health while remaining a support system to others. We support others through toxic situations while ignoring that we too are taking in these same toxic emissions. Here are a few suggestions on how to combat secondhand hurt:

  1. Take time to process your feelings: Supporting friends and family is great. It’s what makes your tribe special, however, do take time to process your own feelings while supporting a friend through a challenging experience. Either cry it out, speak to a professional, journal, etc. do what you need to do to process and analyze your feelings.  

  2. Process the experience from multiple angles. There are three sides to every story. Two biased sides, and the one truth, which no one will ever know since both parties involved will most likely explain the situation through their own perspective. Although the ride-or-die in us want to support our friends through anything, sometimes we miss the bigger story by not looking at the other sides.

  3. You cannot lose yourself in someone else’s situation. You can’t want for or pray for someone more than you do yourself. It sounds selfish and it is, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Everyone is responsible for their own happiness and that will require everyone to do their own work. What you don’t want is to look back and realize you’ve spent all your time dealing with someone else’s mess and you’re left high and dry. You have to put on your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.

  4. Separate their experience from your own: Take inventory of what you’ve personally gone through and what you’ve witnessed. Don’t compare them but acknowledge if there is an imbalance of influence.

  5. Seek help from a third party: Whether a therapist, mentor, counselor etc. find a professional who can provide you with unbiased opinions.

That all folks,


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