Emotional support is so important when we are grieving or going through any difficult time, but seeking it from the right person is critical. The right person doesn’t over-crowd you with their emotions, problem solving skills or judgment. Instead, by holding your story, they allow you the space you need to express your own feelings. Someone holds your story when they:
- Listen without fixing.
- Hear without judgment.
- Feel with you, not for you.
Brene Brown has an excellent clip about empathy versus sympathy which I highly recommend. http://youtube/1Evwgu369Jw.
Empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives disconnection. Empathic responses are expansive. They invite sharing. Sympathetic responses act as shut-off valves.
As I shared with people about my dad’s health struggle and my feelings of grief, two examples of empathetic responses I received were:
“Oh honey, that just sucks! What do you need?”
(Subtext: I’m with you and open.)
“It’s OK to be sad because it is very sad. I’m here for you.”
(Subtext: I can connect with what you’re feeling and be present for you to express it.)
Two examples of sympathetic responses were:
“You never know. I’ve heard of people who have lived for years with lung cancer.”
(Subtext: I have no idea what to say or how to fix your problem which makes me uncomfortable.)
“Did he smoke? Yeah, that’ll do it.”
(Subtext: The universe makes sense. Cause and effect are intact overlaid with judgment about behavior.)
An empathetic person acknowledges that you are peers. I respect your wisdom to solve your own life crises. I offer to be with you while you do it, because I have been there myself and can (and am willing to) relate. While a sympathetic person usually means well, they lack the capacity to share your truth without offering solutions, false silver linings or taking it on as their own. Moreover, you tend to feel like their patient instead of their peer.
So in seeking the right person with whom to share your story, identify those among your friends and family who are flexible and grounded. Remind them if you feel you need to, that you are not looking for a response, just a connection. If you receive a disappointing response after you have shared, try and remember that it is not about you. It is about them and where they are.
Who can hold your story?