The support that is most helpful when we are in an emotionally charged state comes from other people empathizing with our situation and showing they care. This validation of our experience can then give us the courage we need to face the issue for ourselves.
Imagine that you are walking alone in the dark. Perhaps it is on a dark street, in a dark room or hallway, or out on a trail at night, and you likely feel some discomfort or fear.
Then, imagine that a friend is there with you, and notice what happens. Just having a companion with you in the dark can give you strength and courage, and magically, the fear disappears.
Compassion is the ability to relate to another person’s struggle without making the story about you. —Miles Sherts
Nothing has changed; you are still in a dark and unknown place. Yet having another person beside you can give you enough courage to continue forward.
When you are in an emotionally charged state, it can feel like being in the dark alone. Often the most caring response you can receive from another person is simply their presence beside you in your pain and discomfort.
It is amazing how much better you can feel as soon as you know that you are not alone in your trauma, and that someone else knows and cares about it. This can change the whole situation and motivate you to face your difficulty directly, so that you can begin to resolve it with your own resources.
Be Present to Another's Pain
Compassion is the ability to relate to another person’s struggle without making the story about you. Caring for yourself provides the foundation for this kind of response.
When you are overwhelmed or distanced from your own pain, it is hard to recognize or be comfortable with another person’s struggle.
The more you care about yourself and are able to recognize your own fear and pain, the more capacity you develop for being fully present with other people who are dealing with difficult emotions.
Tending to your own healing makes it possible to support the healing of a friend or loved one in a truly caring way. Compassion arises naturally when you take care of yourself, let go of your judgments and solutions, and are simply present with another person’s dilemma with an open heart.
Express Compassion, Not Pity
True compassion or empathy is different from sympathy or pity. These latter attitudes tend to separate us and convey that the person with the emotional charge is weak and in need of caretaking.
This can make other people feel more isolated in their dilemma because it highlights the differences between us, instead of our similarities.
If you approach someone with a problem as if you have no problems, the other person often feels more separate and alone. This is common in traditional helping relationships, such as psychotherapy, and often limits the effectiveness of these counseling situations because the patient is left with a sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.
The aim of supportive listening is to convey that you can understand another person’s experience, while keeping the focus on them.
Compassion comes from a recognition that we both have difficulties and we both experience pain because of them. Instead of referring to your own struggles, however, you simply recognize silently within yourself how it is to be hurt, afraid, or angry.
From this place you can relate to the other person’s situation with a deeper sense of understanding and caring.
Adapted from Conscious Communication: How to Establish Healthy Relationships and Resolve Conflict Peacefully While Maintaining Independence by Miles Sherts. Copyright © 2014, Sky Meadow Press, SkyMeadow.org.