Family, Self

Yes, We Can Endure Pain — But We Can Also Walk Away

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Yes, We Can Endure Pain. We Can Also Walk Away.

I birthed both of my children in almost complete silence. I refused the epidural  —  I’d heard it wasn’t best for the baby. Even as Pitocin coursed through my veins, and even as contractions got harder and faster, I continued to focus with Navy Seal determination on my breaths. "Stay calm" was my mantra. "Don’t panic. In the nose, out the nose."

I didn’t allow air to exhale out of my mouth until the moment I had to push. At that point, I had to be given extra oxygen because the midwife thought I would pass out.

When I’m faced with extreme pain, I’ve learned to put myself in sort of a Zen-like state. I tiptoe above the hurt and look down on it. That way, I don’t have to do the hard thing of entering it.

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Like many women I know, I’ve learned how to go numb to survive.

It works for emotional pain, too. I’ve experienced a lot of pain, trauma and abuse. Instead of fighting or fleeing, I have fine-tuned the art of freezing. I sit and endure. I’m able to stay without fully feeling it.

Once, a male coworker called me up after work hours and completely chewed me out. Unfortunately, I had the phone on speaker and my daughter walked in the room at the end of his tirade. She heard him yelling, heard his poison. Then she heard me put on my chipper happy voice, thank my coworker for the call, and politely hang up.

"Wow, Mom," she remarked. "You were really strong just then."

But the thing is, I wasn’t being strong. I was enduring a beating.

The only lesson I taught my daughter that day was how to grit your teeth and bear pain you don’t actually have to put up with.

There’s a societal pressure on women to lean into pain in order to prove our goodness and worth.

We are taught this even as young girls. Menstrual cramps, no matter how severe, are never a good enough reason to miss school or work. We are encouraged to push through extreme exercise routines and strict diets to achieve a certain figure.

Studies show that vast numbers of women quietly endure extreme pain during sex, because we have been trained to believe the point of sex is to produce male pleasure.

Let’s not mistake the ability to endure pain as a sign of strength.

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Pushing through pain certainly opens us up to opportunities for proving resilience. But it also alters our brain in unhealthy ways.

Children who endure traumatic adverse experiences can grow to be functioning adults, but are much likelier to hold it inside them, leading to the makings of heart disease and other chronic conditions. They face earlier deaths because enduring continual trauma alters our biology in ways we cannot see.

Instead of teaching our daughters to grit their teeth and bear it, we should teach them to respect the ways our hearts, bodies and brains are reacting to the pain they’re feeling.

When they are being harmed, we should embolden them to change the situation ,  not themselves. We should applaud them when they do hard things. But we should also applaud them for knowing when enough is enough and they are just done.

Strength is not allowing others to beat you down.

Strength is when you stand up to your oppressor and demand justice and fairness.

Strength is not putting up with the way things are.

Strength is when you love yourself enough to seek a healthier, better living situation.

Strength is not giving others a free pass when they’ve hurt you.

Strength is when you make it clear what you will and won’t do, what you want and what you need, who you are now and who you choose to be.

Strength is not pushing others down in order to get ahead.

Strength is looking around for those that are struggling behind you, and pulling them up so they can have a fair chance.

We can give our daughters a fairer chance at living their best, most fulfilling lives when we show them  — with our own lives — that pain doesn’t need to be endured simply because it is expected of us.

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Courtney Coats is a writer, solo parent, aspiring social worker, and artist. Follow her on Twitter for more of her work.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.