I have 3 friends who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. While I had a scare a few years ago, and I still fully remember the panic that took over at times, until we found out it was “just an auto immune disease,” I know that I don’t FULLY grasp what that diagnosis means personally. I also have many clients with life-changing issues that I have never experienced, and can’t fully understand. And I know that I can’t “make someone feel better,” but I confess that when my schedule gets so full with people who are grappling with so much, and my thoughts go to my friends who are hurting, I begin to struggle with whether I am capable of saying the right things to help any of them.
I know that the reality is that WHAT we say seldom helps. What helps most is that we sit with the person in pain and allow them to feel what they need to feel. It’s important to not let our own insecurities about not saying or doing the “right thing” get in the way. This requires being in touch with our own vulnerabilities enough to identify with their emotion without letting it consume us. (I’ve always said that’s the “art” to being a therapist – to allow myself to be compassionate; at the same time maintaining a level of objectivity so that I can be of some help).
Sometimes it helps to share a little about similar feelings we’ve had so they understand that we get it. But, because everyone experiences obstacles differently and every situation is different, we can’t really completely get it. And most importantly, we shouldn’t expect that (just because we may have gone through something similar), the other person is going through it or feeling exactly the way we did.
A major diagnosis or life transition is a loss. In order to move past the loss, it’s necessary that we grieve whatever it is we are losing – even if that’s just the concept we had of ourselves as a healthy person. When you’re fighting for your life, you don’t have the time or energy to consciously process that. It’s a process – sometimes a very long one; and grief has a way of breaking us open and leaving us feeling more vulnerable than ever before. This is most difficult for those of us who tend to be the givers of the world.
I’ve posted this reading in the past. It’s probably my favorite of anything I’ve ever read about strength. It points out the misconception most of us hold that we should always be strong. When we’re in the midst of a loss, or when we become overwhelmed with life for any reason, we tend to berate ourselves for being “weak”. As the reading says, we aren’t weak, and all we can do is enough. In fact, I found myself quoting part of this reading to a friend just this morning. I needed to read it again, and I hope it helps you as well.
We don’t always have to be strong to be strong. Sometimes our strength is expressed in being vulnerable. Sometimes we need to fall apart to regroup and stay on track.
We all have days when we cannot push any harder, cannot hold back self-doubt, cannot stop focusing on fear, cannot be strong.
There are days when we cannot focus on being responsible. Occasionally, we don’t want to get out of our pajamas. Sometimes, we cry in front of people. We expose our tiredness, irritability or anger.
Those days are okay. They are just okay.
Part of taking care of ourselves means we give ourselves permission to “fall apart” when we need to. We do not have to be perpetual towers of strength. We are strong. We have proven that. Our strength will continue if we allow ourselves the courage to feel scared, weak, and vulnerable when we need to experience those feelings.
THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO/Melody Beattie