Think about the things that we say to somebody when we hear that they’re having a hard time. We tell them to be strong. We tell them, “lean on your happy memories.” We tell them, “they wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
All of those things carry a connotation of stop feeling the way that you’re feeling and get back to being your old self, to being happy, to not making other people uncomfortable with your emotions.
I talk a lot about this in grief related to death, but I think we can also see this across a lot of other situations in this culture. There’s the idea that any pain or suffering or limitation you’re experiencing is because you’re not trying hard enough, or because you’re not thinking the right thoughts, or you’re not being positive. We spit out any number of things to each other with good intentions, usually trying to make the people we care about feel better or not be down.
But the reality here is that the way that that lands for people is corrective. It makes people who are going through a hard time feel like they can’t tell the truth about their experience.
Think of it this way, every time I tell you that I’m in pain, you tell me it’s not that bad, you’re not fixing my pain, you’re just telling me I really shouldn’t talk to you about it.
When somebody is depressed, when somebody is sad or struggling with something big, our impulses to fix it, and that’s not working. There’s a reason why you can’t cheer up your depressed friend. There’s a reason why you can’t cheerlead a person who is having suicidal thoughts. We’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
A more effective approach is to acknowledge that they’re in pain, to respond with listening and with curiosity. “I’m sorry that’s happening for you. That sounds like a really rough place to be. Do you want to tell me about it?”
How about you? Have you experienced the difference between someone trying to cheer you up and someone acknowledging your pain? Looking for support? Click here.
For our support people – what ways have you found to acknowledge your person’s pain? Others in this community can use your ideas. Click here for more tips and suggestions about how to help the grieving people in your life.Think of it this way, every time I tell you that I'm in pain, you tell me it's not that bad, you're not fixing my pain, you're just telling me I really shouldn't talk to you about it. Click To Tweet
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