I am going to put this out there...I rarely feel sorry for people. That may come as a shocker to some, but I want to open the discussion on why, even in the saddest and lowest points of my friends' lives, I will not feel sympathy FOR them.
People always comment, "I don't know how you do it". But, I rarely take that as a compliment because for me, I know no other way but to be resilient. That's not a pat on my back, by any means. But, I think that what keeps me sane, is that I keep telling myself that no matter how rough or sucky it gets, there's always a way out and that way out really is up to me. I may ask for help. I may ask for lonely solace or laughing fits with a friend who knows that my coping mechanism is denial disguised as self deprecating comedy. But, I never allow myself to feel helpless for long. Thankfully, neither do my friends. And, believe me, my friends have done a great job helping me feel empowered exactly when I need their help. Kudos to awesome friends - you know who you are! I think one of the best decisions I have made in life is to surround myself with people who keep me up, not down.
Okay, back to my explanation. I'll set the scene for an example to further explain my point...
My friend is having a really, really hard time adjusting to a new baby. Sleepless nights, poopy diapers, regressing siblings, flabby tummy, spit up on everything, dirty hair and insurmountable demands are growing...but, I do not feel sympathy for her. Say what?! Bad friend alert! Bad friend alert!
Do I feel her pain? Heck Yes, I do. But, will she survive it? Yes, I'm confident she will. Will I help her? Heck yes, again, heck yes I will. I will bring her dinner, I will listen quietly as she talks about how sucky it is. BUT, I will reassure her that it will get better and maybe help her get a plan together so she can get some sleep or alone time. Because, regardless if I've felt the same feelings, I do not feel sympathy or sorry for her. I feel empathy. Let's discuss the difference...
Let me get all preachy teacher for a sec so we are all on the same page with the difference between sympathy and empathy. Hang in there...
Sympathy and Empathy could be these few examples:
- You feel great empathy with those who are poor, so you volunteer at a non-profit to help them
- Your friend's mother passed away so you send your sympathies for her loss
- Listening to your friend about her struggles being a parent of a micro-preemie gives you greater empathy towards her and you decide to help watch her other child while she visits the NICU
- A great tragedy occurred in your hometown so you send a letter of sympathy to the victims
- You feel emphatic to your friends pain when she is going through a messy divorce and take her out for a drink to lift her spirits
When I see a friend struggling, I do not feel sorry for her. I feel sorry that she has to experience pain, but I do not feel sorry FOR her. I know that she is strong enough to find her way. I feel the need to help her out of her low point. How does one do this without feeding into this pity party? EASY. You give encouragement. You lend a hand. You hold their hand and help them up. You listen, but you don't let them wallow in the "woe is me" stage. You help them find their way up that steep hill. But, you don't drag them up. If you are giving sympathy to them at the bottom of the hill, you are really just waiting with them at the bottom of that hill they are facing. Help a friend in a bind by REFUSING to give sympathy, but offer a helping hand. Because feeling sorry doesn't help. It never will. Empathy leads to helping.
So, if you are feeling low, don't ask for sympathy. Ask for help. Don't complain, ask for help gaining clarity, creating a clear plan. Yes, venting is something we all do. But, venting quickly turns into endless complaining. Complaining keeps you in the quick sand. Until you stop the complaining, funny or not, you'll never move forward.
This has been a struggle for me. Oh, it is one of my daily internal battles. Most days I have to tell myself, "Suck it up, buttercup". I'm not lying. I literally have to tell myself that almost EVERY DAY, and several times at that. I refuse to allow myself a pity party because for me, it would be easy to do. Cake and ice cream included, because it is a party after all. But, for me, allowing myself to REMAIN in that frame of mind only exacerbates the problems. It's a slippery slope to climb. It starts with self pity, followed by envy, followed by solicitations for sympathy, followed by self pity, which all leads to helplessness and falling faster into the quick-sand of life. "Suck it up, buttercup. Make a plan, keep moving forward".
So, if you have a friend who seems to always bounce back and you find yourself saying, "I wonder how she does it?", know that this is probably her secret weapon to keeping herself resilient. She probably doesn't give much sympathy out either. Getting to this point was a game changer for me. Will it be for you?