Why is it so Difficult to Verbalise Distress?

E-mail answers to a question asked by a psych nurse through


Leigh from Australia asked this question:

I’m a psych nurse, struggling to provide alternatives to SH for my patients, this site has given me renewed hope that I can successfully retrain coping skills. Do you know why it is so difficult for people who SH to verbalise their distress?


I forwarded the question to the Bodies Under Siege mailing list. Below are some of the answers Leigh received:

I think a part of it may be that we want to take care of ourselves and be in control. It’s hard to admit that we need help, because we don’t want to need anybody. And for me, it’s a perfectionist thing. I can’t express my emotions, and its very hard to even admit that I need help in real life, like asking questions in class.

Another part of it is that a lot of us, myself included, have been told in the past that what we were feeling wasn’t right, or that we’d get over it, or that bad things happen to everyone, so not to worry about it. It can be hard to verbalize distress when you expect to be told that you’ll get over it. But I know for me, the biggest thing is that I want to be in control, I don’t want others to know I’m not perfect.

One of the reasons I’ve come across with regards to that is denial. That’s a big factor, especially for me personally. It’s like talking about it makes it more real, when I don’t want it to be real, and there’s other stuff that goes with that, like the burying my memories stuff that has made most of my life into a blur.

I was taught not to. I was told that I was being selfish, bad, annoying, bratty, etc. I was supposed to be little Mary Sunshine all the time. I was taught that my feelings as well as my perceptions were wrong and that I wasn’t entitled to have them. I was told that any negativity on my part would make my diabetic mother sicker bc she couldn’t handle the stress. I had to be “good” ie: “quiet” bc my grandmother had migraines. I had the major secret of the incest to keep and it shut my mouth about everything else too. I didn’t dare say anything bc someone might figure out the secret. In school, I practiced the fine art of invisibility. Now, as an adult I can’t. For me, writing and art get around the “don’t tell” rule for some reason so I’d tell her to get her patients to journal and draw/paint sculpt.

I concur with Cat and ellie. To add to all that, I don’t want to burden Anybody else with my troubles/issues, etc… most people I talk to have their own set of woes to think about. Also, I know my friends and family are sick & tired of hearing my complaints about the same issues. I don’t want to be such a downer — and I don’t want people to think I’m a basket case. Recently I was venting to an old friend and found out later he said to someone else, “…all she ever talks about is S.” (my former boyfriend) - so that totally reinforced my case! I’ve been blue for so long now, I just don’t want to talk to anyone. It probably doesn’t help that I’m a single parent of a small child, with no family in town, so I have little or no social life. My SI-ing has escalated exponentially over the last year.

i dunno… for me i think im just worried that no one will believe me, b/c the ppl in my life dont trust me much…so i feel that they’ll just say somethin like “oh..thats bullshit” so then ill just be sitting there trying to figure out why im lying to myself and them… but that’s just me… that and the fact that not many ppl who dont SI wouldnt understand, so why even bother trying to elaborate…


I also think that some people do not have an emotional vocabulary so it is difficult to put into words. Looking at feelings lists and pictures may help.


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