Background noise and background pain

By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)

Sometimes my parrot will come up with a sound or a word and we will wonder “where in the heck did he come up with that!?”

We noticed a few years ago that he would make a “Whooooosh” sound when anyone opened the door either to go in or out. He did it consistently, so we knew he had associated the door opening with the sound, but we couldn’t figure out who would make that sound often enough that he had picked it up. Then one day my husband came in the house and it was very hot outside and when he came in he made that “Whoooosh” sound as he hit the air conditioned inside!

My son and I went, “Whoopee! We know where he got it now!”

It takes endless repetitions of a word or sound for a parrot to pick it up, and my husband must have done this hundreds of times before the bird picked it up. The bird is way more sensitive to the sounds in his environment than we are. We tend to “tune out” the “background” sounds that are not important to us so we can concentrate more on those sounds that actually “mean something.” Not that our ears can’t “hear” that sound, it is just that our brains tune it out and assign no importance to it.

I think sometimes people (myself included) do the same thing with situations and associations. We tune out as unimportant things that happen every day—things that we decide are not important to our world and we don’t want to concentrate on them. I have osteoarthritis just from being over 65 and having used and abused my bones and joints in the past, so I have a sort of “background” pain in most or all of my joints. I try to “tune this out” and usually succeed, because if I concentrated on this background pain, I would not be able to think about anything else.

Emotional pain

It seems to me that I have done the same thing with emotional background pain as well in my associations with dysfunctional or disordered people. The other person would make some “snarky” or disrespectful comment to me, and it would hurt just a bit, but I would push it to the background noise of my life and not concentrate on it. Just as my son and I didn’t “hear” my husband’s noises when he came into the house from outside because it wasn’t important, didn’t mean they weren’t “there.”

Pushing our emotions, our pains, into the background helps us to keep ourselves from being overwhelmed by the vast number of little pains and injuries. It numbs us to those in our everyday life so we can keep on functioning and without succumbing to the overwhelming pain. Sometimes we get a huge emotional injury and we “feel it” intensely, but even then we can put the residual pain into the background of our everyday existence.

Noticing and responding to every little slight in life isn’t the point of this, because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to function. Taking to heart and internalizing every snide remark made by every salesclerk isn’t necessary, but to “notice” and “hear” the slings and arrows of a particular relationship is another matter entirely. If we are continuing to have to “tune out” painful things from a person or a relationship, the pain will build up until there is a cacophonous level of emotional pain in the background of that relationship.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep that level of background pain under control—energy that could better be put to use in establishing boundaries.

It took my parrot’s continual “Whooshing” to draw attention to one of the sounds in the background of my environment. It took tremendous pain to draw attention to the pain that had accumulated as a background noise in my relationship with my son and other family members. I had “eyes and did not see, and I had ears and did not hear,” as Jesus said about the Pharisees. It was unpleasant for me to realize that our relationships were not healthy, because in realizing that they were not healthy, I would be required to do one of two things, neither of which I wanted to do. I could continue to endure this continuing assault on myself, or I would be required to act.


Confronting someone you love with the fact that they have been causing you tremendous emotional pain is a scary prospect. How will they respond? Will they stop doing what they have been doing and try to salve your wounds? Will they stop treating you badly? What if you confront them and they become angry? What if they leave you? What if they punish you? All those are questions that produce great anxiety. Confrontation is risky behavior.

Confronting dysfunctional people is especially risky. It is especially painful because they do not receive your confrontation well, but instead project the problem back on your shoulders. They will tell you that you are the problem. The pain becomes greater.

Becoming aware of the background noise in our lives of abuse and dysfunctional relationships is only the first step in a painful process. Taking action is the next step. If the person in the relationship is not dysfunctional or disordered, they will work with you. If they are unwilling to do so, you can’t make them do so, and so the next decision is to continue the relationship as is, or to terminate it.

Awareness if the first and most painful step, but it leads to a life free of the pain of a dysfunctional relationship continually assaulting our psyches.

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62 Comments on "Background noise and background pain"

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YOu know, I joke about the “mute” button but it really is there.

When you are feeling badly, crying or feeling down on yourself, if you will STOP, and ask yourself “Why is my internal child being beaten?” You will AUTOMATICALLY INSTANTLY FEEL BETTER. You will hit the MUTE button on that “tape” that is playing in the back of your mind that says “I always screw up” or “I really messed up this time” or “no one loves me” or whatever nasty tape is playing in the background. TRy it, it is a “technique” that my therapist showed me lo those many years ago, and it does work.

You may not find the answer to WHY the internal child is being beaten or is sad or down, but the ASKING itself will hit the mute switch at least for a little while.

OxD, what a great suggestion! My counselor has reminded me to see the “here, and now” rather than focus on the fear-generated anxiety, as well.

Then, I also gave my “inner child” a name that isn’t associated with me, personally, and I visualize that child in tears and feeling like a screwup, lonely, and fearful, and I visualize my adult self crouching down and taking her into my arms to comfort her. In my mind, I tell this child that she DOES have value and worth, and that she IS priceless and that we can face down the fear of whatever is causing the angst, together – she need never be alone, again.

Now, I know that this all sounds like nutso stuff, but it has helped me a great deal. Reminding myself that I did not choose to be neglected, “abandoned,” ignored, devalued, and so forth, is a great tool for me.

Lately, I have really needed to sit with this frightened inner child for a good long time and just cry WITH her.

Duct tape…..LOL!

No, Truthspeak, that doesn’t sound nutso at all. It sounds very self-loving and self-caring.

I used to envision me as a small child climbing up into the lap of God (face unseen) and letting Him hold me for a while. Ya wanna mess with me? Deal with Him first.

Doesn’t sound nutso to me either, Truthspeak, it indeed sounds like a great tool. I think it is a great thing to pass on to help others.

G1S – Good One !

Thanks for the encouragement. Right now, I’m not doing well as far as managing all of these feelings goes. Even my inner child is begging for some sort of reassurance, and I can’t give it to her.

I haven’t been weepy for a long, long time, and I’m just overwhelmed right now. Facing the destitution, the truth that he never cared as long as I had money, that the car I’m driving is in the queue for repossession, that I have no other transportation to get to work, doctors’, etc., is too much for me to carry, right now.

My attorney has been unresponsive with regard to the repossession issue, and she has suggested that I HIDE the vehicle until the divorce is settled, and I don’t see how this is possible. The finance company knows where I work and they only have to wait for me to park it before they load it onto the flatbed. I never even wanted a new car, either! But, the exspath insisted that it was affordable and then walked away from this obligation, along with every other one that was joint, as well as his own.

I really don’t like this feeling of despair, and I have to sort out how to manage it. I don’t want this to become an every-waking-moment obsession, and I’ve just got to sort this out.

Again, thanks for the encouragement and support.


I hear you and I can understand why your “inner child” is in despair, but your INNER ADULT is the one that can handle the situation.

That “inner adult” is the one that can find an alternative solution, but the child can only shudder and quiver in fear. Our “inner children” are the fun loving, wonderful parts of ourselves that make us special and unique. But these inner children are not equipped to make hard cold logical decisions on business and life choices. We must use our “Adults” for that.

So, right now, put the “inner child” to sleep for a while, and get the ADULT out and let her get her ADAMANT on as E. B. says, and figure out a way to take care of the transportation situation.

Yep, they can repo the car any day they want to, so you need to ACT NOW while you still have wheels under you.

So you need to get a cheaper car that you can pay for. Go to one of these “tote the note” lots and get some sort of beater that you can pay $25 a week on, and your insurance bill will be cheaper as well. Research the different models available on the internet for price and reliability so that you can choose wisely.

Look at the tires to make sure they have enough tread that you are not going to have to be buying a new one soon….make sure there is a jack and a spare tire. When you move the car off the parking spot at the lot, stop, get out and go back and look under it and see if there are any oil spots or other fluid spots. As you drive, feel for the transmission jerking as it changes gears. Listen for strange noises. Tell the salesman riding along with you to be quiet while you think….don’t let him talk and distract you.

Get your adamant on girl and go take care of the problem actively, not just wait til you are afoot!

OxD, I hear you! I have one question, though, and that has to do with “credit.” At this point, there is real estate in forclosure, equity loan in default, unpaid utilities outstanding, and this vehicular thing. Your suggestion is VERY sound – it’s the credit issues that could muck up the purchase.

Oh, and the exspath either took or hid or destroyed my personal documentation that would prevent me from registering the new vehicle in Maryland. Right now, I have out-of-state license, registration, and tags that will remain valid until well after the divorce is final.

UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No matter the depth of my angst, OxD is absolutely right: GET MY STINKING DUCKS IN A ROW AND DO IT WITH SOME OOOOMPH!!


Whatever the problems with registering a vehicle, changing your DL or what ever, you need to as you say it “get your ducks in a row” and DO IT.

The “tote the note” car lots will sell you a car with BAD credit, they charge more for the used car, and they will come get it the day after you miss the FIRST missed payment, but it is A WAY to get a car.

I realize it is easy to just sit and cry, but you have to GET UP OR DIE! So get in gear and DO what you have to do. ((hugs)))

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