Sadness is but a wall between two gardens.
Have you ever taken a step back when you’re feeling low and observed how others are responding to your mood? What are they saying? What are they doing? What is their nonverbal communication telling you? This exercise in awareness has been eye opening for many of my clients and myself as well.
I’ve noticed that the people I interact with when I’m feeling down typically fall into three categories:
- The people who notice and respond with empathy.
- The people who don’t respond at all. They may or may not have noticed, but either way it doesn’t get addressed.
- People who notice and add in their own doom and gloom because they are “in it” too or because they feed on negativity (or a myriad of other reasons).
Often when I’m feeling down, I am wanting an empathic response from others, especially if I’m being vulnerable with them and am looking for a way to connect with them. This may be situational like I had a hard day and just need my husband to acknowledge that for me. This may be the harder stuff, like a move to another city and missing my friends and needing to hear that they miss me too. Or the really deep losses like the passing of a loved one, a miscarriage, etc. Here, I was often looking for people who truly understood what I was experiencing and could say, “me too, I get it” or “I see your pain.”
But, some thing I also noticed when I was grieving is that sometimes I just wanted to go about my day in a normal, pre-loss manner. Meaning, I wanted to be around those people who didn’t acknowledge my loss for whatever reason (most likely because they didn’t know what to do or say or because they were uncomfortable with grief and loss themselves), the people who acted like everything was fine (even when it most certainly wasn’t), because they gave me back a sense of normalcy, a taste of hope that in the future I would find joy again in life.
But, the final group is often the much scarier group, those who see our pain and make it worse (purposely or not) or those who see our pain and look to turn it to their advantage. This dynamic can present in many different ways in people’s lives. For example, you may not want to leave the house because you fear running into a certain coworker or seeing a certain family member who “prays on weaknesses,” and you just don’t feel strong and centered and good from the inside out to be able to deal with this type of interaction in a healthy way. You may also see this dynamic in one of your children not wanting to go to school because they had a hard, emotionally exhausting night and they feel too drained to deal with the mean kid, the bully, the strict teacher, etc.
So, what can we do in these life situations?
- Accept where you are in this very minute and plan accordingly. Come from a place of self-acceptance first.
- Check in with yourself first to see why you’re feeling anxious about doing a certain activity.
- Give yourself permission when you’re going through a hard time to pick and choose who you see and don’t see, as well as permission to not interact at all if need be.
- Let others know what would be helpful in that moment – do you need empathy as you talk about your hurt and pain? Do you just want to have as normal a day as a possible? Let those around you who truly care about you know how they can be most helpful to you.
- Remember that often the people who make our own pain feel worse are the ones struggling with their own pain and hurt in life as well. This doesn’t make it okay in any way, shape or form to treat you badly when you’re hurting, its simply another way of seeing them, often from a more empathic place inside of you.
- Set firm boundaries with the people around you, especially those who are adding to your pain and suffering. Give yourself permission to be rude and leave situations without warning if you need to do so. It’s about taking care of you first and foremost.
- Teach these same important skills to your kids, and listen to their nonverbals and what isn’t being said out loud if you’re sensing a problem.
Find those people who truly understand you to help you through both the good times as well as the not so good ones!