June | Silent Suffering

“So if there is any truth to it all – it is that everyone suffers in their own way.”  ~Laura Chouette

In our work at Leaders@Scale, we often see leaders and individual contributors undermine themselves by occasionally bottling up their challenges and frustrations and not asking for what they need. This creates what we call silent suffering – the willingness to keep those frustrations and unfulfilled needs close to their chest.

It is not necessarily for lack of courage, or lack of psychological safety (i.e. repercussions for even asking) – though these are common causes too – but it may also be the lack of alternative resources to fulfill those needs or resolve the frustration. Put simply, it’s the noble act of not wanting to burden their fellow busy, overwhelmed colleagues.

Some examples include: not giving constructive feedback until it’s too late, and therefore working extra hours to correct mistakes on a deliverable. Or it could look like proceeding with eroded trust with a teammate because of behaviour that had harmful impact.

In my specific work in supporting my male clients, I notice their mental health is severely impacted by whether or not they feel that they have a safe space to share their challenges and emotional struggles with. The cost is that they turn to unhealthy or unsustainable coping mechanisms (e.g. drinking, working longer hours, etc.), and ultimately it has knock-on effects downstream with their relationships at work, and in their home/community.

The result of silent suffering and not having the professional space or network to share your challenges can be a specific kind of burnout. Not the kind that comes from working intense hours, but from the lack of meaningful impact or fulfillment from investing your limited energy into the work.

The remedy to burnout from silent suffering isn’t necessarily taking time off, going to the spa, getting a massage, or going for a hike. The remedy to silent suffering burnout is, ironically, more silence — the space to show up and express fully what you’re experiencing with a generous listener.

Generous listening is a gift you can give (and hopefully receive) to those important to you. Give the gift of silence generously, and perhaps watch the shoulders of the person drop from their ears, as they relax into being seen and fully accepted for coming as they are.

Journal Prompts

  • What is the cost to you of silently suffering, whether big or small?
  • What are we depriving of others, in terms of accountability or opportunities to help, by not revealing the burden that you have taken on?
  • What are you taking responsibility for that maybe others around you would make sense to share in?

Further Reading

Psychology Today: What Lies Underneath the Secrets and Silence at Work? The downside of keeping our “game faces” on when silently suffering.

The Muse: Suffering in Silence: What To Do When You Feel Isolated at Work

What’s on Repeat

Songs we can’t get enough of:

Today’s edition of the L@S Newsletter was composed by Alvin Pilobello. Alvin is a professional coach, salsa dance instructor, and former water engineer. He has a passion for what makes the world go around: water, dance, and connection. He helps people make sense of the diversity within others and themselves to encourage connection and develop innovative, systems-based (vs. linear) approaches to working relationship challenges.

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