Every Scar is a Bridge to Someone’s Broken Heart

Perhaps we literally need to feel our own pain in order to feel the pain of others.

From a scientific perspective:

The ability to feel the pain of others is based on neurobiological processes which underlie pain experience in oneself. Using innovative methods, an international research team headed by psychologist Claus Lamm from the University of Vienna could show that a reduction of self-experienced pain leads to a reduction in empathy for pain in others as well.

From an aesthetic perspective (I realize screamo is not everyone’s idea of a pleasant Monday morning. Lyrics are below the video clip):


I know one day, all our scars will disappear, like the stars at dawn
All of our pain will fade away when morning comes
And on that day when we look backwards we will see that everything is changed
And all of our trials will be as milestones on the way
But as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
And there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends

From a scriptural perspective:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

And finally a thought. We live in a society that is increasingly obsessed with avoiding suffering. We’ve reduced our ethical universe to focus on the avoidance of pain and little else. What happens if we succeed in our intentions, and create a world where pain is largely eliminated? How many of the destructive behaviors within our society are an attempt to do just that: numb ourselves until we are beyond feeling pain?

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.(Matthew 24:12)

Recognition of the vital role played by pain in our lives does not justify intentionally causing more pain to ourselves or others. It does not suggest we should fail to alleviate pain (including our own) when we can do so morally and responsibly. When we are in trouble–from depression to a car accident–we need to find help before we philosophize. But after we have done all that we know to do, some pain will remain. And it may help to realize this fact: that not all suffering can be avoided in good conscience, and that in those cases there is a chance to build bridges between broken hearts.

11 comments for “Every Scar is a Bridge to Someone’s Broken Heart

  1. So far as a parent of toddlers my parenting strategy is “Just stop the crying”. Perhaps I’ll be permanently stuck in that rut, and will find myself as the emotional problem solver when my children are older.

  2. There are worse strategies, Jader.

    Mosiah’s admonition that those who accept baptism should “be willing to mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” stresses empathy. He might well have added “feel pain with those in pain,” although when it comes to real pain, most pain-feelers would prefer simple pain relief to empathy.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot – that our responsibility is to ease others’ pain, and therefore we must be actively working to relieve suffering – to lift the weary and love the unloved. I think, as you point out, that this responsibility extends to ourselves, and that it is important to differentiate between relieving suffering (healing) and numbing it.

    I think the injunction to ‘mourn with those that mourn’ is very similar to the rule that we must bear one anthers’ burdens. We must actually feel the weight of others’ sorrow. This can only ever be done imperfectly, because each burden is shaped to the bearer, but the more our experience has shaped us to each others’ burdens, the more readily we can help to bear the weight of a too-heavy sorrow.

    I also spend a fair amount of time thinking about the nobility of suffering, and wondering how to approach that. I had an interesting conversation with my bishop, in which he implied that it was the difficulty of a commandment that made it valuable. I am interested in this timeless drive to do hard things for no other reason than that they are hard (though I seldom feel such a drive), and the implied equality of hardship / difficulty / suffering and righteousness / spirituality.

  4. This is one of the most important truths out there. The pain you’re going through may not make you stronger. It may in fact weaken you. But you’ll be able to better understand the pain that others in similar situations are going through, and if you support them in their pain that can make all the difference in their lives.

  5. Nathaniel, what an interesting post. Thank you.

    …a reduction of self-experienced pain leads to a reduction in empathy for pain in others as well.

    I know a couple of people quite well who have experienced some measure of pain and difficulty—and who are particularly sensitive with regards to how they are treated or what happens to them—but who seem sincerely almost unable to understand or even recognize the pain/feelings/difficult others experience. It’s very hard to understand.

    When I meet someone who is generally insensitive to others, but also has a thick skin or, conversely someone who is both personally sensitive and very empathetic, it makes more sense. But the combination of taking many things very personally but offering little to no empathy to others is hard to explain.

  6. I’m glad to finally be able to comment on this.

    I deeply appreciate your post, Nathaniel. The things I have gone through, while incredibly minimal on the grand scale, have both devastated me beyond what is warranted, and taught me some of the charity I once prayed for. My pain has lasted for five years now, since its nominal cessation. It has stolen my ability to try to form an eternal family again, and driven a wedge (in a way) between me and God, but it has also given me the ability to open my heart to the pain of others in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise been able to.

    I have found that by accepting my own pain, I’ve given other people permission to accept and suffer their own. They don’t have to “positive think” their way through life. Suffering is not desirable in itself, but it is not something to be avoided at all costs, either. And, despite my loss of faith in my relationship with God, I have found that by opening my heart, I believe I have come to understand Him better, and form a relationship with Him that I never suspected was possible.

    So I no longer believe that all the promises which have been made to me will be realized, nor that good behavior brings particular blessings. But I do believe that if I humble myself and have faith in Christ, my unbelief won’t matter as much as my desire to be a place of safety for His children. And that IS religion, after all.

  7. After our 5-year-old daughter unexpectedly passed away several years ago, the book that touched me most deeply – and was by far the most cathartic thing I read – was A Broken Heart Still Beats, a sort of anthology of poetry, fiction, essays, and letters dealing with the shock, pain, grief, coping, and (sometimes) healing that follows that terrible event. I still remember one reviewer’s comment: “This book reminds me why I prefer the company of the bereaved. Their hearts are softer.”

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