I discovered Dr. Caroline Leaf and her books many years go when she started publishing about neuroplasticity – the ability to retrain and change our brains – and giving us tools to make that happen at home. (See…I’ve always loved self-care!) One of her Facebook posts ran across my feed earlier this week and really struck me. She said:
“We need to get away from the idea that we have to understand and know what people are going through in order to be compassionate, patient, and kind. You will never know what someone is going through even if they tell you. Rather, choose to accept what they experience and say as valid, and choose to love and support no matter what.”
One of the things I have noticed over time in a variety of different relationships is the reaction from the person in pain when a well-meaning friend, family member or even healthcare provider says, “I know how you feel.” I have even tried saying “I understand” in place of the other phrase, and that has also been met with very strong reaction. Even if we have experienced a similar situation, each life story is so different that there truly is no way we can fully understand how another person feels. We may have insight. We can have empathy. We may want to understand. But we will never truly know how another person feels.
That presents some interesting dialogue right now as we are all navigating the COVID pandemic. Surely, we are all feeling the same thing, right? Many of us say we are overwhelmed, tired, frustrated and “done”. Most of us are mourning a loss of social interaction, routine, jobs, experiences and those whom we have lost to the virus. There is a lot of pain and anger out there, and in here, right now. But even those words and emotions may mean something completely different to the person living next door.
Can you think of a time when you were on the receiving end of a comment similar to “I know how you feel”? How did that statement, regardless of anything else, make you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Relieved? Maybe you felt like your feelings were being minimized?
Can you remember what you needed or what you were seeking when you shared your experiences and situation with a friend? Many times, we are looking for help but I believe most of the time we are looking for someone to say, whether in word or action, “I hear you and I see you”. Validation that we are struggling in some form – not necessarily approval or agreement. Very different than “I understand” and more powerful, as well.
Consider what it would mean to you to have someone respond with “I hear you” when you share a problem or a frustration.
As you move through this fall and into the holiday months, consider being thoughtful and deliberate with your words and try “I hear you; how can I support you” instead of the automatic “I get it” or “I know how you feel”. Not only are you practicing social self-care, but you are also building your own foundation for psychological and emotional self-care – being aware of your own feelings and sharing them with a trusted friend.
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