In the first of this series, I pointed out how blaming circumstances or someone else for your troubles is a way of avoiding responsibility for your life. It makes you a victim. In my last post, I explained how shame brings on feelings of inadequacy, intense pain and unworthiness. What does such a person seek in most cases? You got it – sympathy.
Sympathy is defined as sharing the feelings of another, especially when they are in sorrow or trouble – in other words feeling compassion or commiseration. It is natural to feel sympathy for those who have been mistreated or have suffered a sudden loss. There is definitely a time for consoling others. Often just being there for them can make a tremendous difference.
When I suggest NO SYMPATHY, I intend it for those whose situation is chronic, who are re-living situations from a long time ago. I do not dismiss them as they are very important to the sufferer. Regardless of whether it was an abuse-filled childhood or the loss of a twenty-two year old cat thirteen years previously, that is what is real to that person and that must be respected. While I feel their pain, I believe the solution lies in offering strength rather than reinforcing their suffering through sympathy.
Everyone’s story is a little different. We are all unique. Due to the many challenges I have faced in my life, there is always something to identify with, a common ground. My skills and guidance have come mostly through my battles in the trenches rather than from a textbook of someone else’s theories.
I have offered understanding, respect, patience, honesty, compassion and many other things, but not sympathy. My clients have included sex offenders and those who suffered from being violated. I have dealt with very violent individuals including murderers, drug dealers and thugs, as well as those who have been crapped on for as long as they can remember.
Their focus in life was on their pain-filled past, the past that made them all victims – even the perpetrators. For me to offer sympathy would support their “poor me” story. That is what alcoholics, addicts and many others thrive on. I do not mean to make light of what they have lived through. It is just that continuously focusing on what has happened prevents any chance of change. I remember what it felt like when my life felt stuck in a whirlpool.
Deep within us, most people know what is wrong with them and what the answer is. Sometimes just having someone they can trust to share their feelings with can bring it out into the light. You cannot erase decades of misery in a moment but you can help people not focus on it. As the I Ching states – when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
A Gratitude Journal is a great way to overcome troubles by shifting attention to what is good in one’s life. Even if your family life was challenging and your current prospects look dim, there are many things to be grateful for. Break it down into all the simple things in your life and give thanks. There are always people a lot worse off than you are.
I am grateful every day for:
“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
– Albert Schweitzer