While speaking to a friend who has recently "lost"a dear one to death, I was reminded that we sometimes don't feel comfortable around such situations. The thoughts come up: "What do I say? How can I make that person feel better? Is it better to speak or to be silent?"
I recall that at 20 years of age, when my parents died in a car accident, I really felt happier when I was not remembering their absence -- I know this may seem obvious, but think about it. When we dwell on something, it takes up our whole consciousness, and sets the tone for our whole experience.
Feeling Sorry for Myself
The times when I was stuck in depression were the times when I felt sorry for myself and did not seem to be able to think of anything else but my loss. I had not progressed to the stage where I could remember them with love and gratitude, and happy memories. I was still in the "poor me" stage, so thinking about them, or being reminded of them, just brought out the tears, not the smiles and cherished memories.
There were other days or moments when I would be living in a world of pleasure and beauty enjoying the present. I once again felt in love with life and would go out to meet it with peace of mind, not focusing on my loss. Then someone would come along who, of course with good intentions, would say "Oh, I'm really sorry about your loss..." etc. I would once again drop off of the wavelength of 'feeling happy' and on to one of 'feeling sad and sorry for myself'.
I remember hating those situations... to the point where I moved away from our community in order to start anew without all these painful reminders. (In those days, running away was my medicine of choice.)
Now, of course, I see more clearly that I was not yet able to face and deal with the emotions that were coming up in me following my parent's death ...anger, sorrow, guilt, pain, rejection, abandonment, lack of control... In other words, all my stuff was coming up -- but at that time I had not yet discovered the tools to process all this emotional matter and had to leave the scene of the crime (so to spea!) in order to heal my wounds.
I did indeed feel like a wounded animal and certainly did not appreciate people kindly wanting to dig into my wound. I did what animals do when hurt... They go off alone to rest and heal. They don't "hang out with the pack" for sympathy for their wound, but rather go away in solitude to let nature take its healing course.
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Becoming Comfortable with Uncomfortable Feelings
I realize that we feel uncomfortable in a lot of other day to day situations. We may have feelings come up that we don't want to look at, or we simply don't know how to respond. We often respond in the way that we have learnt... we sympathize, we say "Aah, poor you" -- whether the comment is addressed to us, or to someone else.
The typical response when someone is ill, is talking about the illness, or when two lovers go separate ways, we talk about the separation, or any other situation when we sympathize with the other's "negative" situation. We usually respond with "sympathy", which usually means we utter some comment to the equivalent of "poor you".
Sympathizing means (according to Webster) sharing another's feelings... It is not a very uplifting and positive way to deal with negative occurrences. We cannot get someone out of the ditch by sharing their plight and getting into the ditch yourself -- then we'll both be in the ditch, and will need someone else to "rescue" us. We can only help by lifting them out from above.
So also with emotional ditches. You have to stay on the outside so you can lend a helping hand by extending love and inspiration. Getting into the rut yourself with "sympathy" will certainly not make the other person feel better. They may just end up feeling much worse when you agree with them that they are indeed in a terrible situation, thus adding fuel to the fire... Sharing thoughts along the "poor you" line, and commiserating with the person on how bad things are, will not in any way uplift or inspire.
Empathy Is Not Sympathy
I am not referring to feeling empathy, which is quite different... When we empathize, we "understand the other's pain", but we don't get into the rut with them. Empathizing allows us to get in touch with the emotions of the moment, feel what they are feeling, become aware of their experience, and then respond from a "higher" place in our consciousness.
It might serve us to think twice before uttering trite sympathies in such situations, and instead ask ourselves "what is the most loving thing to do and say?" Each situation, each moment is different, so the response one moment may be entirely different than the response the next.
In some situations, a caring hug and allowing the other to express their pain and their grief is required. At other times, it may be more loving to not speak about the "negative" or painful situation and instead bring some joy and light to the "afflicted" person. It may be indeed a highly loving action to go out and play tennis with the person, bringing pleasure to their life, rather than get into a sympathy or "poor you" framework.
When we take a moment to "tune in" and reflect, and ask our Higher Self for inspiration, we will be guided to the "right" words or action. Our intention must be to support and love, in whatever way feels appropriate at the moment.
About The Author
Marie T. Russell is the founder of InnerSelf Magazine (founded 1985). She also produced and hosted a weekly South Florida radio broadcast, Inner Power, from 1992-1995 which focused on themes such as self-esteem, personal growth, and well-being. Her articles focus on transformation and reconnecting with our own inner source of joy and creativity.
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