Supporting The People We Care About When They Are Hurting
Despite our best efforts many of us don’t do a very good job at supporting the people we care about when they’re hurting. What they need is not always advice or encouragement but rather someone to simply exist in that painful space with them, what they need is a break from the painful existential isolation in the form of a non-judgmental ear and an accepting embrace.
We’re not trying to claim that advice and encouragement don’t have their place, of course they do. It’s just that we tend to rationalize our proclivity to jump right to advice or encouragement as proof of being there for someone who is hurting when in actuality what’s going on is an unconscious defense mechanism meant to protect our psyches from truly empathizing and therefore also existing in a painful psychic space for awhile. Our mirror cells are great allies in forming connections and understanding people on a deeper level but they can often feel like enemies when they force us to feel those same unwanted feelings as the suffering Other is experiencing.
If we’re really serious about supporting the people we care about when they are hurting then we have to do our own work in seeing through the defense mechanism and deciding to consciously hold off from jumping right to ‘buck up!’ or ‘you should do x’ and instead have the courage to sit with the other and let this person feel what they’re feeling and express what they’re feeling without censure or judgement. There will be plenty of opportunities for encouragement and advice. Like we said we don’t recommend eliminating encouragement or advice from the help repertoire but only keeping them from being the default responses, responses that keep the other feeling isolated and misunderstood and rarely offer the needed salve, the salve of knowing there’s somebody else in the boat with them.