Tag: compassion

The good old days are real

I just spent an incredible weekend with friends I have had since I was eighteen years old.  Our early years together had problems;  we worried about exams, bad haircuts, boys who didn’t call and possibly missing out on a really fun party.

In our twenties, we worried about whether we were on the right career path and how to afford the clothes, apartments and vacations we wanted.  We were either dating, engaged or getting married so bad haircuts remained an outlying concern.

Our thirties were a bit more grounded with long term partners or husbands.  Kids had arrived, days were hectic and late night parties were part of our history. There were also issues with our families of origin that had always been there but became less tolerable for us.  Sometimes, when we asked about siblings or parents, the answer was, “I don’t know.  We don’t speak.”

And then came the forties.  Yowza.  That decade needs to come with a warning.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets out of their forties without at least one crisis.  If you don’t believe me, work really, really hard at being trustworthy, someone a friend knows will never divulge their secrets or problems to, and you too will know of the agony of the forties.

This is what I have learned — nobody gets out trouble free.  If it isn’t your marriage, it’s your kids, if it s neither of them, it’s your finances, your parents, your job, your health or a loved one’s health.

These are trying times for everyone.  What adds to the suffering is believing you are alone in your challenge.  You are not alone, but if you feel alone, maybe you do one of three things-

  1.  You share secrets.  Don’t do that.  It hurts really badly.  If someone is telling you something about their marriage, family, kids, job or health, take it to the grave.
  2. You don’t want to “contain.”  When we have a burden on our back, we want to share it.  It lightens the load, makes us feel better and sometimes nothing makes things better but a good listener helps.  You can’t cure cancer, pay someone’s mortgage or improve their marriage, but you can listen.  If it is too much to hear someone’s challenges, you might deflect them with platitudes like, “I’m sure things will turn around,” or “that happened to a friend of mine, and she…”  Just listen.
  3. You aren’t an active listener–ding, ding, ding, this is me, my problem, something I am resolving to fix.  When a friend shares financial struggles, don’t do what I do, and start bringing up news stories about how incomes have remained flat.  When someone shares their husband’s infidelity with you, don’t offer advice or suggestions about what they can do.  The very best people in the world, whom I am very lucky to know, say these two things:  “I am so sorry.” and “That is so difficult.”  They say them over and over again as you tell your story, “I’m so sorry you are going through such a difficult time.”  They can say it ten times, and all ten times it feels really good — like they really care and are just letting you have your moment when you just want to feel sad.  Tomorrow, you will get to fixing it.  Today, you just want to be sad.

One thing I have learned that seems so counter intuitive is, if someone starts crying, don’t put your arm around them.  Don’t sit next to them.  You can hand them a box of tissues.  That’s it.  Apparently, the other gestures are our way of saying, “Okay, you can stop now.  I need you to stop crying now.”  I know, it seems weird, but a good cry is a good cry, and who wants to interrupt someone’s good cry?

If you are in your forties or know someone who is, buy the four pack of tissues. I just turned fifty and wish I could go back to caring about my hair.

 

 

Companger-when anger gets in the way of compassion

I saw someone who causes me companger.

Companger-when you know you should be feeling compassion but all you feel is anger.

I wonder, are some people here to test us, to see if we will take the high road, turn the other cheek, forgive and forget?

Nearly everyone I know has someone in their life who causes them to feel companger.  The person is infuriating and at the same time elicits feelings of sympathy.

Why do they continue to do these behaviors that are either destructive to themselves or the relationships they have with other people?  Don’t they see their role, their contribution to the drama in their lives?

In many of these cases there is some addiction—to shopping, eating, drinking, exercising, drugs, or some other compulsive behavior.  We know these compulsions must exist to assuage deep emotional pain.

We feel for them.  We want the best for them, but we don’t want to get caught up in their web.  We don’t want to be lied to or lied about or try to pretend they aren’t lying when we know they are.

You know you are dealing with a difficult person when they produce one of two emotions in you-anger or pity.

A friend of mine said these hurt souls need “space and grace.” Is that really the best thing, isolating them? 

Another friend speaks of not letting these challenging individuals vomit all over her shoes.  It’s a strong image—you are going through your life, keeping all your plates balanced in the air, and some person comes along with all their mixed-up emotions and throws up all over your shoes.

Maybe, “space and grace” is the kindest thing you can do for yourself.

The Math of the Difficult Person

Difficult people have their own math equation.  I’m not talking about moody people or people who don’t agree with your politics.  I am talking about the people in our lives who send us to the therapist’s couch, the ones who leave you feeling infuriated and wanting to cut off contact because there seems to be no way to achieve a healthy relationship.

In a healthy relationship there will be problems caused by both people in the relationship.  When problems occur—someone says or does something hurtful—the person who is hurt will begin the equation with, “It hurt my feelings when you said, did, X.”  This may be called the accusation.

The other person may respond defensively, may say, “I didn’t mean that,” or may just say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I said or did Y.  That wasn’t my intention.”  This step might be called the acknowledgement.

The first step, X is sharing how you are hurt; the second step, Y, is acknowledging the person has been hurt and your role in it, and then there can be Z, forgiveness which then allows the offender to feel redemption.

X+Y=Z

Accusation + Acknowledgment =Forgiveness and Redemption

Difficult people follow a different path, and it never leads to Z, the good stuff of forgiveness and ultimately, redemption.

You might offer your accusation: “I was hurt when you weren’t honest with me on Saturday.”

Difficult people, rather than acknowledge the hurt they caused, choose one of three paths I have identified.  You may know more-

Path A Bring up ancient hurts

“You were hurt?  Do you know how I used to feel when I was a child and…?”  This is the diversion path.  It has nothing to do with the current situation and is meant elicit a pity response from you and cancel out any problems you may have with the person.

Path B Bring up old grievances

“You were hurt?  When I called you in 2003 you said you were going to help me with (fill in old grievance) and you never did.”    The difficult person has nurtured this wound for years, waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring it on you in the hopes it will cancel out any problem you have with the person.

Path C Death Threats

“You were hurt?  I wish I was dead, had died, plan on killing myself.”  This is the atomic bomb; when the going gets tough, pull out the death threats.  Once again, this response is meant to elicit pity and turn the conversation towards the needs of the difficult person and of course, cancel out any problems you may have with them.

They don’t acknowledge anything they may have done to fracture the relationship.  Without this acknowledgement, the problem is left hanging in the air.  Forgiveness and redemption are not available.

X Accusation + Path A, B or C= Unresolved problems

Something tells me this has to do with shame.  Maybe they are carrying around a heavy bucket of shame.  It sloshes around as they walk.  It is already so filled that they can’t take in your accusation.  They are all full up on mistakes.  They can’t acknowledge anymore.

What I would offer the difficult people:

The bucket you were given may havebeen filled by someone who lacked the capacity to forgive themselves, so they filled it with their own shame and then yours.

You can be the author of your own forgiveness.  Favorite prayer- I am not willing to forgive, but I am willing to be made willing

The people who accuse you don’t do it to hurt you.  They do it to repair a break in the relationship.

Grace isn’t just a girl’s name.

Meet the Should’s

I had known some of the lesser should’s—I should have slept more last night, shouldn’t have brought that up, I should let him know—the minor leagues.

In 1999 I met the World Champion Should’s when I became a parent.

One day I wasn’t a mother, and the next, I was the mother to two very sick, neglected and very malnourished kids, about to turn two and four years old.

We became parents in Ukraine and had to finalize our adoption in Warsaw, Poland.  Something occurred in Warsaw that I didn’t know then, but understand now, to be foreshadowing for the next sixteen years of our lives.

After staying in a very run down, depressing hotel in Kiev, where our phone was a party line and there were two cots for Dale and I to sleep on, we were over the moon to stay at the opulent Sheraton in Warsaw where, when we checked into our room, we saw a bottle of wine a friend had sent.  

We were brand new parents with our beautiful kids and everything seemed perfect.

Our older son, who was nearly four, but spoke no words, saw the bathtub and became very excited.  I drew a bath for him which he lingered in and loved.

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I watched my son in the bath while my husband watched our younger son in the room.  My husband poured a glass of the wine and called the friend to thank him.  I went out to take a picture of him on the phone, smiling, holding his glass of wine.  We were a happy family.

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Then parenthood happened.

As I returned to the bathroom there was a scream.  Ethan had somehow slipped forward and banged his head so hard on the spout that a huge bruise immediately began to form.   Four years in an orphanage, and not a mark on his body; less than 48 hours with us, and he has a golf ball on his head.

 My husband came running in the bathroom to see what happened.  Upon his arrival to the bathroom, we heard a cry from the room.  Our younger son had gone to the desk where Dale’s glass of wine sat, picked it up and poured it over his head.

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These three events-me taking the picture of my smiling husband, Ethan smashing his forehead into the faucet and Thad pouring wine over his head all happened within ninety seconds.

I shouldn’t have left Ethan to take the picture.  Dale shouldn’t have left Thad to come check on Ethan.

That was the night our should’s and shouldn’t’s began.

It would be years before I met their arch enemy:  compassion and forgiveness.

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