It is hard to see others hurting.
Imagine you are sitting with a friend and they share with you a problem they are having in their lives. As they speak, the pain, the confusion, the worry they are feeling flows from them. What happens for you as you listen? How do you show up to them in their pain and how do you show up for yourself in your response to their pain?
If you are anything like me, you listen empathically and offer support, and there is a part of you that wants to jump in to fix it for them. When we care about people, it’s natural to want to ease their pain. It’s painful to see people suffer. We tend to feel all sorts of things that are pretty uncomfortable: helpless, annoyed, angry at the people stirring up the pain for our loved one, maybe even tired of hearing about our loved one’s pain. Whatever we are feeling, it isn’t fun.
When we are sitting with someone else’s pain we have the opportunity to hold space for them and for ourselves. Part of what we teach in our classes is how to be Compassionate Accepting Observers of our own lives. Ant the wonderful this is these skills translate to how we show up for others too.
Some of you might be thinking, “Isn’t helping people a good things? What is wrong with wanting to fix things for someone I care about?” There is a time and a place for everything, so there are moments when this might actually be helpful. However, when we jump into fix-it mode without first ascertaining that it is indeed a moment when that is called for, we are jumping onto a feelings bi-pass. So often the urge to make things better is really a defense against feeling whatever it is that we are feeling. We try to make the situation better so that we don’t have to feel our discomfort of things being rocky for the ones we love. We also end up disempowering our loved ones. Unless they ask us for help, most likely they can find their own solutions if they finish feeling their feelings and have enough time. What they need is our support, not our solutions.
Fix-it mode prevents us from allowing space for what we are feeling. It gets us out of our discomfort at sitting with someone else’s discomfort. When we jump into fix-it mode it also makes it harder for the other person to have space for their feelings. Fix-it mode is invalidates the feelings of others. It says, “it isn’t okay to feel this way so let’s get you feeling something else.”
Our feelings are never the problem so when we treat them like they are, things rarely resolve themselves well. I would imagine most people have experienced a time when they have shared their pain with someone else only to hear, “have you tried this? You should do this! That worked for a cousin of mine in a similar situation.”
When this happens to me I literally feel myself shrinking smaller inside myself. Even when I am receiving good advice. I just want to yell “let me be! I am just sharing what I am feeling. I only want you to listen and support, not fix the situation.”
And the really amazing thing is that empathetically listening to each other and being a witness to another’s pain, is actually quite helpful! When people can express what they are feeling and feel heard and loved in that feeling, they tend to find the solutions for themselves. When the feelings have space, right action emerges all on it’s own.
So the next time you are listening to someone and you have the urge to jump in and fix it for them I encourage you to get curious about what is getting stirred up inside of yourself. See if you can make space for your feelings and for theirs. You could even make those feelings conscious and bring them into the conversation (i.e. “I feel so helpless. I really wish I could fix this for you. I want you to know that I am here with you.”). It could help both of you.