Self-care for Sensitive Souls
Reconnect with your inner resources
So you’re talking to a friend about how you’re feeling. It’s not a good day, and you’re suffering. ‘I can’t take this any more,’ you say. ‘It’s unbearable.’
She's sympathetic … but then starts telling you (lovingly) that it’s happening for your highest good and that maybe you should look at what the lesson is for you ...
It doesn’t feel good to hear. You feel defensive. You resist her attempts to share her insights. You don’t know how to make her stop without offending her and you’re getting annoyed. Meanwhile your friend gets upset. (She only wanted to help.)
Oh well, she thinks, perhaps you just aren’t ready to change.
Why does this all feel so bad?
It feels bad because when someone jumps straight in to fix you, it can be painfully dismissive of how you’re struggling. The unintentional message is, ‘Your problem can be fixed, so don’t suffer. I can see it clearly and you can’t. Just listen to me, I know what you need to do.’
It’s not about whether she’s right or not. It’s about whether you feel understood.
You resist her suggestions, not because she’s wrong, but because you want to choose what’s best for you, in your own time.
In fact, you may go and do the opposite, even if it’s not what you want, just to feel that you're in charge.
Because that’s the crux of it. In a vulnerable moment, you get disempowered.
So what to do? You know your friend means well. So take a deep breath. Smile. Thank her for sharing her thoughts but be clear that this isn’t the right time for you to hear them.
Over to you ...
Sometimes, of course, the boot is on the other foot. It’s us doing the jumping in and solving, with all the best intentions in the world.
How can such a well-meaning conversation go so wrong?
It’s because there’s a missing step.
What gets missed is taking time to respect what the other person is going through. Not minimising it, not brushing it aside. Then asking permission before offering our own experiences and beliefs.
If we skip this empathy, it’s easy to go straight into fixing and giving advice. It’s very easy to do, especially when we’re dying to share our brilliant insights.
But when we don’t pick up the subtle feedback that’s saying ‘no’ to our unsolicited problem-solving, and the other person is feeling vulnerable, it can get very close to bullying. Ouch.
Most of us miss out empathy at times, even if we’re clued-up about it. But it’s a sensitive skill we can develop.
A powerful way to start is to simply reflect back what the person is saying.
If they’re not saying anything, sit with them in the silence.
Either way, you’re taking it in. You get it. And that’s a priceless gift.
The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen puts it beautifully: ‘The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing ... not healing, not curing ... that is a friend who cares.’
If you’re interested in learning more about being an empathetic listener, I warmly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s ‘Nonviolent Communication’. The new edition includes a chapter on connecting compassionately with ourselves.
Thanks to Lisa Sjolund at Flickr for the image.