I have become very interested in distinguishing between these concepts, and feeling out where I fit in on the scale. I love Brene Brown’s work on this, and include the video below for your consideration:

When I was undergoing treatment and recovery, I found that people tried very hard to make me feel better. They tried to help me look on the bright side. Unfortunately, many times I felt like my suffering was being minimized by their attempts to cheer me up. You see, at my lowest point, I was being tube fed via nasogstric tube and couldn’t swallow so much as one tiny pill via mouth, my taste buds were fried from radiation and everything tasted like swamp (at best), and I was so fatigued that the 14 steps from my basement to main floor seemed like a mountain. I did not want to hear that at least I was alive because I wasn’t really sure that “alive” was a better choice.

“This, too, shall pass” became my mantra. I made a deal with Spirit that if things didn’t improve in two months, I was prepared to check out of this particular chassis and hoped that those I loved would understand why I had made that choice. It turned out that Spirit had a plan for my recovery and my check-out time would be delayed.

What do I recommend you do for someone who is in a very dark place?

  1. If you can do it from a place of compassion, offer them a shoulder to lean on. Work through your own “stuff” so that you can show up with a genuine desire to help rather than out of a sense of guilt. Acknowledge your own feelings about their situation  – know that they are not contagious. If you can’t do that, let them know that you’re thinking about them from a distance.
  2. Make a specific offer of help. Can I bring you supper? Is Tuesday or Wednesday better? Do you need a ride to the doctor? Can I walk your dog? General offers like, “Call me if you need something” are not particularly helpful if the patient is overwhelmed. They will seldom call, and if they do and you can’t help, they will probably not call again.
  3. “Comfort in, dump out” – See http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407 for details. Don’t expect the patient to comfort you. They have enough on their own plates.

We are all different in the way we deal with crises. These suggestions would have been a help to me, but may not work for your loved ones. If you wonder what they need, ask them. If they cry while they tell you, don’t rush to “do something”, but instead listen to their angst. They may not have had someone who could listen without passing judgement or offering advice.

Wishing you all comfort, especially those in the path of the hurricanes in Florida and wildfires in Montana.

Jocelyn Hastie

Originally published on the shared blog https://womenmoveitforward.wordpress.com 2017/09/12

Sympathy and empathy