Sitting with someone’s pain

tissuesWhen someone we love is suffering, we want to take away their pain. When they hurt, we hurt and it can feel cruel to sit there and do nothing. But what if our attempts to stop their pain actually makes things worse? What if our discomfort adds to their pain? Often our partner or friend or child just wants us to be there and do nothing except listen and care.

People cry all the time in a therapist’s office and we welcome it. We don’t rush over with a tissue or a hug. We sit with the client’s pain and allow them to feel it and express it and learn from it. A tissue or a hug can send the wrong signal. You can inadvertently be saying: Shhh, Shhh, don’t feel like that. You might actually be saying: Shhh, Shhh, don’t feel like that. Either way, you could be telling this person that you don’t want to see or hear about their pain. Your friend or partner or child might stop crying or talking about their issue – not because they feel better, but because they can sense that you’re uncomfortable. In other words, without meaning to, you can be failing to give empathy, when that’s all you’re wanting to do.

Snot needs to be running down someone’s face before I’ll reach for the tissues (unless they ask beforehand). A hug is so powerful – after someone has been able to fully download.

One of the most important gifts we can give another person is to demonstrate that we can sit with their pain. After all, it’s about them, not us.


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