I was upset about something. It was one of those somethings that 99% of the time would have had little to no effect on me. But, as in comedy, the secret to being soul crushed is timing. And so this something that may not have been a big something at any other time of my life was a HUGE something. It wasn’t about the thing – it rarely is – it was about a pattern of behavior from a person in my life that left me feeling hurt and disappointed and alone and humiliated and angry and everything else that feels awful and can only be numbed by a good Italian red, which is what we were doing when he said this revolutionary thing.
As friends, we want to help and be there for each other, which is why we often try to explain away the behavior that our friends found hurtful. And as it sounded like he was about to do the same I interjected with, “I understand what you’re saying, but it doesn’t change the way I feel.”
“Oh, I don’t want to change the way you feel,” he said. And then he looked me in the eye and said it again.
In that moment I felt relief. I didn’t feel judged as I had feared. I didn’t feel that my feelings were wrong and that I had to defend them. I felt like someone acknowledged that it was OK to feel the way I did whether he understood it or not. That he didn’t have to understand it for it to be valid. I felt heard.
I want to be clear: my instinct as a friend is never to do this. When the shoe is on the other foot I am the first in line to try to explain the bad feelings away. I know it almost always comes from a good place: my friend has a perceived hurt that just comes from some misinterpretation and if they can understand the miscommunication they wouldn’t be hurt. Well intentioned? Yes. Helpful? Almost never.
Yes, sometimes a friend can say, “Did it seem like they were mad at me?” And you can say, “Oh no, their goldfish died, that was all,” and it quickly goes away. But when it comes to feelings of sadness and despair and hurt and anger those are way too real even if you think the circumstances that caused them may not be. Your friend is past the point where you can erase it with a dead goldfish.
Trying to make it better (WHICH I DO – ALL THE TIME) by trying to explain what really happened or how you saw it or what they might have been thinking lacks what the person really needs: compassion. Saying, “But here’s why you shouldn’t feel so bad,” while well-intentioned – which I know it is because I do it ALL THE TIME – sounds dismissive. Telling them not to feel that way is a waste of time because they ALREADY DO. The last thing a person needs to hear is that they shouldn’t feel that way because then it adds a feeling of inadequacy to their enormous pile of already shitty feelings.
It’s also easy to get frustrated with the person who’s feeling badly as if they must want to wallow in their misery because they are not seizing on our brilliant explanation. I know, because I have been that person, too. We think, “Well, I guess they don’t want to feel better.” They do want to feel better! But what you’re saying isn’t going to make that happen. Saying “feel different” is not how to make people feel better.
So why is this the most revolutionary thing I ever heard?
For starters, it made me feel better in the midst of a spiral of truly awful feelings. And any non-food, non-beverage, non-clothing or non-trip to Italy that can do that is remarkable.
But more importantly, it left me open to an important experience this week by inspiring me to get out of the way of my own shit long enough to hear someone else.
Stay tuned for “The Most Revolutionary Thing I Ever Heard Part Two…”