Are you lonely and afraid right now?
It’s okay – no one will know if you’re saying yes inside your head.
I’m lonely and afraid, too.
It’s hard. It seems like everyone else is so positive. They’re looking on the bright side. They’re being grateful. They’ve got plans to get through.
They’re not thinking the same thoughts you’re thinking.
Thoughts like, How will I get through this?
What if things get even worse?
What if I can’t handle it?
What if everything good is gone?
You can’t keep acting like life is normal. This isn’t normal. Everything is broken. And you don’t have the energy or strength to repair it…
All the Well-Meaning People
Whether you’re going through a divorce, or you lost your job, or a loved one just got cancer…
It can feel like life just smacked you down and knocked the wind out of you.
You try to stand up again, but you keep getting smashed by one blow after another.
All the well-meaning people come out of the woodwork. They have great advice for you. They totally know what you should do.
“Don’t be a victim,” they say. “If you wallow in it, you’ll just feel worse. Don’t let fear win.”
(They expect that to make you feel better.)
Most people aren’t very good at offering comfort and support.
Your problems make them uncomfortable.
So they decide to problem solve for you.
That will make THEM feel better … and isn’t that the point?
They tell you everything they know about your type of problem and the people they know who’ve been in EXACTLY your shoes.
(Because, of course, you know less about it than they do.)
And the way that makes you feel is even lonelier than before.
The Art of Empathy
No wonder few of us will admit we’re worried and scared and don’t know what to do.
We don’t want the well-meaning advice.
We don’t want people to tell us to look on the bright side.
We feel guilty enough already about how we’re feeling.
What if, instead, we lived in a world where everyone got trained on how to support each other emotionally?
Shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown is trying.
She has 13½ million views (and counting) on a video where she talks about the best way to help someone who’s suffering.
Surprise! It’s not about sympathizing.
Nor is it about sitting in a place of judgment. “Aren’t you over that by now?”
Nor is it about trying to make things better. “At least you still have food on the table.”
It’s about remembering the times YOU have suffered … and extending empathy.
You know how suffering feels.
Maybe you remember a time when you felt like you were in a deep, dark hole you couldn’t get out of. You felt such despair. It felt like the end of the world. It hurt so much you couldn’t bear it.
There are no words for that kind of pain. It’s incredibly lonely.
Your friends who are hurting don’t want your words. They want to not be so unbearably lonely in their pain.
How do you think you could be there for them?
It’s Your Presence that Matters
If you’ve ever given birth, you know there’s no rushing labor.
No one can take over the pain for you and give you a break. It’s all down to you (and your anesthesiologist, if you so choose).
But there’s one thing your birthing partner can do.
They can hold your hand.
Holding someone’s hand decreases the amount of pain they feel.
So let’s start holding each other’s hands.
Let’s stop shaming people for how scared and upset and worried they feel.
If they feel like they’re going to be judged for having those feelings, they’ll stop sharing them. They’ll shove them deep inside. They’ll put on a happy face and act the way everyone expects them to act in public.
But on the inside, they’re still going to have those feelings. Only now they have to go through them alone.
When we face someone else’s pain, the problem isn’t that they’re afraid.
The problem is that WE are afraid.
We’re afraid of their pain. We want to make it stop. We don’t want to catch it. We want them to go back to being their normal self.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable to sit with someone’s pain.
Yes, it hurts to know you can’t make things better.
But you are strong enough to do this. All you have to do is hold their hand. Be there for them. You don’t even need the right words.
And in return, allow them to do the same for you.