The other morning I had an emotional conversation with my husband. He asked me what it is that I need. And I just started crying, and at first I said that I don’t know. And then as we talked several things emerged.
I told him that I am not sure if I am a part of the problem of why it is so hard for me to receive what I need. And yet I don’t know right now how to be any different. I have spent my entire life being put together, calm, and collected. My children would look to me to bring calm and support in the midst of a crisis. And I did. I brought calm to all those around me.
I have had women walk up to me multiple times in the grocery store and start talking to me. And within a few minutes they are telling me their life’s story. And almost without fail, they stop and look at me and say, “You have such a peacefulness and calm about you.”
I have spent my life trying to hide the pain inside of me. And I am good, really, really good at it. Maybe some people noticed the hidden sadness. But no one suspected the life I lived behind closed doors in my first marriage. Not friends or family. I made him look very good. And he is still benefiting from that to this day.
I walked away from his family and mine. I didn’t want to talk about him or what he did. I just wanted to be safe and free. There was nothing inside of me to deal with other people’s opinion. And other than one sister, no one even asked.
Unfortunately, in my family of origin the typical dysfunction was huge. There is no close family or mutual love and respect. When you have already been beaten down, how do you return to or risk anything in that environment?
The reason why I think I may be a part of the problem is because it seems people have a hard time connecting with my pain because I am strong and articulate and hide it so well. I don’t want my feelings to be discounted anymore. I know I am strong, I can be a bad ass under incredible circumstances. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hurt or feel pain deeply. Mostly I withdraw and turn inward.
I don’t know if any of us suffer for a lack of knowing what to do. I think we suffer for a lack of compassion, of being heard, of having our feelings validated. For others being able to truly understand how painful, and hurtful, and difficult abuse can be.
I think we want someone to feel with us and just sit with us in our place of sorrow. It is so counter-intuitive to us as humans. But it is the best way to truly have someone feel heard, and loved, and accepted. And to find a compass for healing.
I don’t think we can ever feel loved, accepted, heard, or cared for without true compassion. We need someone to walk alongside of our pain and hurt without expectations or judgment. We want to be able to be vulnerable and to feel safe.
Too often we are trying to talk people out of what they are feeling rather than feeling their pain with them. It’s not like we don’t want to hear what others have to say, it’s just that it takes a lot to earn that place to be able to give advice. And we certainly don’t want to hear it without first knowing someone is concerned about how we feel.
As the following three minute video I share again below states, there is absolutely nothing you can say to make someone’s pain go away. But there is so much we can do to make someone feel loved and accepted. Words are only beneficial if they are words of empathy. Empathy is the language of grief, and sorrow, and suffering. Maybe we all need to learn a new language for ourselves and those we love.
I don’t know if I have fully reached a conclusion yet on what it is that I need. I am continuing to ask myself this question and I am still trying to figure it out. Maybe I just don’t know. Maybe I have lacked so much love and care and nurturing since I was a child. All I know is that words, even well meant words, can hurt without empathy.
On Empathy by Brené Brown
(a 3 minute video)