I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional pain. How it looks. How people respond to it. What makes it better. How sometimes you’re just supposed to sit with it, and other times you need to challenge it. How sometimes you need someone to sit with you, and other times you need to be left alone. It seems that you rarely need to be kicked in the ass and motivated to get over it….but I bet there are people out there who receive that well. I’m not one of them. When I see people try to motivate someone out of their depression, it makes me cringe. I know it’s coming from a loving place – usually – but it often misses the mark.
A conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in years confirmed for me how little we humans know about responding to emotional pain. We want to reach out, we want to help, but we are lost and confused and pretty damn scared. How can I look at someone I care about and see them in such despair and have any clue how to benefit them? Is empathy really that powerful? Is it really enough to bear witness to someone’s struggle? Once I’ve held your hand and thanked you for opening up to me and legitimized your feelings, what happens next? Am I supposed to offer some kind of wisdom or assistance? And if I do, what the hell do I do if you take me up on it? Do we keep talking about it? Do I distract you and try to cheer you up? Maybe I’ll let you know I’m there for you from afar. I’ll stand over here and pray for you or think healing thoughts for you….from way over here. Where it’s safe. Where I don’t have to acknowledge my own inadequacy or confront my own struggles or any number of other things that shield me from vulnerability. Yours and my own.
I realize I might not be speaking for everyone. There are a lot of amazing people out there who can be vulnerable and can tolerate another’s vulnerability. And I’m sure that there are times when they are more available than others. I just know that so many of us are walking around with weights we can barely carry. At times our knees buckle under those weights, and we can’t move as fast as the world often wants us to. I also know that sometimes, we need to put down the weights – whether we leave them there or pick them up again, we can’t always drag them with us. Anyone who stops long enough to be curious about the weights and how we came to carry them – you are much appreciated. And if you can just be willing to notice the weights and refrain from telling us how we should just cast them off and be free, that would be pretty great. We’d like to cast them off too. And if we knew how, we would’ve done it already. Just notice. Just be curious. Just let us know that you see that our weights are real. That’s really all you, we, I need to do.