I used to feel like it was my “duty” to make a loved one feel better when they were going through tough times. Like it was my personal responsibility to squeeze a smile out of them, or let them know that it was all “going to be okay”. What I’ve come to realize is that while it is absolutely natural to want to ease the pain of a loved one who may be suffering in some way, sometimes the most important value comes in just (as corny as it sounds) being there.
The gray area is in our independent interpretations of what “being there” actually means. For many of us (and I was included in this number), it means trying to go to battle for our loved one. If we deem that they are having a temporary setback, and it has weakened their ability to maintain the person WE know them to be, we want to do whatever we can to try to make THAT person “come back”. And on a very surface level, it’s sweet. You know, to want to help a person keep from bottoming out and feeling and experiencing what actually usually are very real emotions, thoughts, and realizations about a situation with which they’re faced.
But if we REALLY think about it, it’s kinda selfish. Of course, that’s not usually our intention though. But it’s really wanting to numb or relieve their pain so WE can feel better, knowing that they’re okay…or at least pretending to be. Why? Because when a loved one is hurting, so are we. When they’re in pain, it hurts us. When they’re otherwise wounded, it pierces our hearts and makes us uncomfortable. It reminds us of how little control we have and how much our peace of mind is tied to what’s going on with other people – especially those with whom we share strong connections.
We listen…to a point. Then starts the “encouragement” talk. We hear the pain…for a minute. Then we try to find a way to turn around the conversation and make it lighter and to distract them from the hurt, the disappointment, disillusionment, or whatever is the ailment of the moment. It is one of the greatest challenges of our humanity to share carrying another’s burden of pain. It tests our own fortitude because it’s not even OUR issue! But because we’ve chosen to exchange intimate energy with them, we get to experience what they go through…if they trust us enough to let us in during such a time.
Of course not all of our efforts to provide relief to our vulnerable counterparts stem from selfish motives, but the purpose of this post is to spark reflection the next time a loved one trusts you with such a tender moment of opportunity. Because the opportunity in that moment may not be to tell them everything’s going to be okay. Sometimes that only exacerbates matters and deepens a sense of alone-ness and misunderstanding.
The real opportunity in that moment is to be a listening ear, a loving bosom, and/or a gentle and non-judging caregiver. Not every observation of a “crack in the armor”, if you will, is a cry for help or for us to fly in and try to save the day. Oftentimes, we save the day just by being there to honor them in their moment of truth. Now, don’t get me wrong, some folks need a swift kick in the ass and some tough love, or to be dragged out of a drunken stupor of self-pity. And is there value in hearing comforting words of wisdom or concern in moments of crisis? Aaaaabsolutely! But many more times, we’re unable to distinguish or make an accurate assessment because we’re blinded by our own discomfort and the need for things to be “normal” so WE can be okay.
So the next time you find yourself being privy to someone’s nakedness, in whatever way it happens, challenge yourself to “do” absolutely nothing except let them feel that you have brought all of yourself (or at least as much as you can honestly offer) to the moment and that you’re willing to ride it out with them. And truthfully, that speaks more volumes than any encouraging words you could have mustered up anyway.