A Thursday Thought on Suffering in Silence

I know many of you will disagree with me today on today’s post, but I wanted to voice my opinion on a news story that broke this week, and how it relates back to all of us.

Dustin Hoffman. Image via Parade.com

Perhaps you saw the announcement this week that actor Dustin Hoffman is recovering after cancer treatment, and is doing well. “Hoffman is feeling great and in good health,” said his publicist Jodi Gottlieb, noting that the cancer was “detected early and he has been surgically cured.” I wish Dustin Hoffman the healthiest and speediest recovery… he is one of the lucky ones.

But this announcement led me to visit the notion of suffering in silence, as did Angelina Jolie, and do many women I know in my community who announce a struggle AFTER the fact. After they have crossed over to the other side. Once they are “cured,” or “better” or have overcome. So that means, throughout the duration of their suffering, whether it be marital woes, financial troubles, or problems with their children, they stay mum. They suffer in silence. They only disclose once they are luckily on the side of strength. Once they’ve turned the corner.

Which led me to wonder WHY? No, I take that back. I don’t wonder why. Believe me, I get WHY. People are entitled to privacy, to struggle without a community judging them, or watching them, or saying to them, “Woe is you,” or “Poor you.” I get it. But I just wonder why we opt to hide, over community support. For some, the shame is so deep, that instead of discovering possibly wonderful solutions or options to our problems, we conceal. This means we suffer alone. ALONE. Are we that afraid of what others think of us?

I’m just posing the question, I am not judging how one chooses to deal with struggles in their lives. I am not saying you have to air out your dirty laundry, or spew your diarrhea all over the place. But, we often put on a brave face when we’re dying inside. We’re afraid to admit weakness. We’re afraid to say that our child has failed the exam, or is bulimic, or is clinically depressed, or that we have been diagnosed with cancer.

I am simply here to pose a different angle. For me, I have found my community of support through writing, and you have joined me through my celebrations, but you have supported me through my struggles. Through my children stuttering, through my child’s panic attack, through life and career frustrations, through disappointments at times in my marriage, through it all. But, by sharing with you, I found solutions. I found resources.

Not everyone has to share their life in a blog. That is not what I am saying. I am simply saying that knowledge is power. That when you share, when you disclose, you learn new information that might get you to that other side quicker. Information that you might not have discovered had you stayed quiet.

So my beauties, I will leave it at that, and instead pose the question to you: Why do we suffer in silence? Why do we keep the bad stuff to ourselves? Do we HAVE to suffer in silence? I think this is a complex discussion. I’d love to hear your take on this matter. As always, you can comment anonymously if you are more comfortable. I’d truly love to know.


  1. I totally agree with you Erica. When my Mom had colon cancer, blogging about it, sharing with others was a gift. I also felt a responsibility to educate others on how this happened and what happens during treatment and how if ever faced with the same situation anyone reading it would get through it. For celebrities I do understand their need for privacy but for Dustin Hoffman to not even say the name of his cancer. I wonder why he bothered to annouce it at all.

  2. I personally need time alone every week to recharge my battery regardless of sickness, struggles, happiness, etc. Maybe it’s the fact that I think and feel better when I have time to myself to recharge, but speaking about my woes is not something that is instinctive. Sickness or struggle is the same. No one had any clue that something was up with my relationship until I called for help moving out. I already had found a new home, saved money and was ready for this new scary step. My mother did hold it against me for the longest time that I did not say anything to anyone, but I needed that time to think, to figure it out without outside influence. A co-worker went through the same thing and she came to work crying every day seeking other’s people opinion and support. She’s always been a social butterfly, as I am not. So I think that it has to do how we are wired to function and that as long as it works for you, that’s how it should be.

  3. Very insightful post Erica. I am the type of person who suffers alone. I don’t like to burden those around me and it was also how I was raised. We didn’t air out our dirty laundry as you say. I am working on sharing with those who really care about me and can be supportive. Thank you for this post.

  4. They say, “It takes a village.” I would agree. I suffered a long time in silence and still do some days after losing my first son to a rare genetic disease, Heterotaxy Syndrome. It was very isolating and no one had any “right” words for us. I felt like if I talked about it, it made it real and when I didn’t talk about it, I just isolated myself more. I think many times we have no idea where to turn or what is available for your certain type of genetic disease, cancer or any other illness. The illnesses and the solutions are so individual that it is hard to nail down just one community, one resource…heck, one anything. And,when we feel alone, we are silent.

    However, I believe that is the point where we have to dig deep and just open ourselves up to family, spouses, children, online communities and anyone who will listen. I have learned that knowledge is power. Through this knowledge I have been able to fight my battles with insurance, with doctors and even with myself. Recently, our second child was diagnosed with a genetic disease called, Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia (PCD). This time I have not sat in silence. I am speaking to the PCD Executive Director and I have become active on the PCD FB page. I work side-by-side with her doctor’s and not behind. I work very hard to get out in front of this and I have become her biggest fan, and most importantly her number one advocate! I try and give this disease a face. We choose not live a sheltered life because I do not want my daughter to fear this. We take everything day-by-day and we now shout from the roof tops and learn as much as we can from everyone.

    Silence IS curable where a lot diseases are not. I think some of greatest solutions we can provide to those in silence are to pray for them, stay positive and be kind. Those in silence have to find the courage and I hope that they do by reading blogs like yours or reaching out to loved ones.

    Many Blessings to You!

      1. Beautiful comment. I am so glad that you overcame the isolation and decided to share, and gain all the benefits of community. It does take a village, and it does take great courage to share. Stay well.

  5. Society, as an abstract whole, one can never predict how some individuals may react..and when exposing certain vulnerabilities or struggles, frivolous or otherwise, the last thing desired I would imagine is unhelpful & undesirable reactions which could make things worse. As you say Erica, it is so complex & YET essential to ponder. Protecting the privacy of attached loved ones merits consideration too. Writers and those that share are so brave and courageous and give so much by sharing but need thick skin and not everyone has the emotional architecture or confidence to do so. Close friends make all the difference for those that opt not to share with a wider audience. Love your post! To me, you are helping society heal, one person at a time & in so many ways!

    1. There’s no doubt that sharing quietly in safe and living environment with a friend, makes all the difference. Thank you for your comment Cynthia and thank you for reading.

  6. Did you see the amount of journalists from all over the World waiting for the birth of baby George?
    When you’re THAT famous, media can interfere with the recovery process. There’s a time to show & tell, and a time to retrieve and reflect with loved ones.

  7. Celebrities such as Dustin Hoffman, are built in a pedestal, they often hear their ego directing on what to do and what to say. Therefore, he as a person may want to share his health problems, but his ego is saying “no, don’t share, you’re above everyone else”…the ego is a perpetrator in our life situations. So sorry to hear about this wonderful actor, he will beat it!

  8. There are a couple of ways to look at this.

    On one hand, I completely understand that going through treatment for a serious illness is hard enough when you’re not a celebrity, I can’t imagine how much more difficult it might be if you’re famous and have to also wade through countless photographers and members of the media who may care more about getting a sound bite from you than making sure you get to your doctor’s appointment on time.

    But….I also feel that our society is somewhat obsessed with strength and uncomfortable with weakness. I think that we often hear about a celebrity’s struggle AFTER they’ve recovered because they feel that they need to show us how STRONG they are. I think they feel a responsibility to be INSPIRING all the time and to grace the cover of magazines with headlines like, “I DID IT, YOU CAN TOO!”

    But here’s the thing (and where some might disagree with me) I actually think that they could be even more inspiring if they shared not only the good parts with us, but part of the struggles as well. personally, having been through many tough battles in my life, I am much more inspired by people who have fallen and gotten back up again, than people who have never fallen at all.

    When my mother was battling Cancer, there was an athlete also dealing with it and I remember reading article after article about how he’d go straight from treatment to training and train for hours because he wasn’t going to let Cancer slow him down and everybody ooohed and ahhhed at how incredible he was for doing that and I thought, “REALLY?? Are you going to tell me that he NEVER has a bad day? That he never feels sad or scared or tired??? Really??” My mother didn’t find that inspiring, if anything, it kinda makes someone who IS feeling tired or scared feel guilty that they aren’t climbing mountains or leaping tall buildings as well.

    We have to STOP seeing being HUMAN as being weak! Hearing someone say, “Some days I feel like crap and need to rest, but other days I feel really good and can get some more things done,” Reminds us that we shouldn’t judge ourselves through the tough times, but support and encourage ourselves ALL the time”

    It’s OKAY to not be OKAY 100% of the time.

    I remember hearing someone talk about a friend of theirs with Cancer and say,” June goes straight to work right after chemotherapy. Good for her!”

    IS IT? Is it good for her? It is if June feels good enough to go, but she certainly shouldn’t feel the need to be Superwoman if she doesn’t.

    Having moments of weakness doesn’t mean we’re weak, it just tells us that we need to take extra special care of ourselves so we can be strong again; when we’re ready.

    I know that I am not who I am because of only the good things that have happened in my life, a huge part of who I am is because of what it took to get me through the bad times.

  9. Thanks for this post, Erica! I’m actually quite the opposite, for whatever reason, and I realized this when my oldest son was hospitalized for two weeks when he was 3 years old with pneumonia. He had to have surgery in his lung and a chest tube in him for days and morphine and oxygen mask, and well, it was a nightmare. I was thankful for the non-stop around-the-clock support from my husband/parents/in-laws/grandparents/sister, but I didn’t share a single thought, feeling, or emotion with anyone else. Maybe my best friend, and that’s it. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone who wasn’t a doctor or a nurse. In times like those, I lean on my family and I tend to close myself off from the rest of the world… I don’t know why this is? I feel like I don’t want to hear “I’m sorry, that’s terrible” etc. You know? I think only if I knew someone had experiences the exact same thing would I only maybe find a touch of comfort of hope… I don’t know. I am (despite the fact that I’m always online and work in social media!) a very private person…

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