Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Maybe We Should Try For The Empathy Olympics

Because at various times in the past I have gotten comments on this blog expressing disgust or distaste that I would dare complain about anything about my life, or informing me that I am too negative or too unappreciative or too something or other, this post yesterday from Mir at Woulda Coulda Shoulda really resonated with me.

Maybe it's because I'm a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist by training (and previous career), but I've never understood how someone's reaction to another person's distress (major OR minor) could be to remind that person that there are a lot of people who are worse off in the world, or to imply that one has no reason to complain about anything, or be sad, or upset, or depressed. I mean, yes, in certain particular instances, such as if the distressed person is being a total jerk to others, I can see how that reaction might eventually be warranted. But generally speaking, if someone--me or anyone else--says something about being stressed or depressed or burned out or upset, I think it's unhelpful at best and jerky at worst to make the person feel like a lowlife for having those feelings.

I think empathy should generally be our first reaction, because one never knows what sort of battle that person might be fighting, as Mir says. Honestly, you really don't. And also, as a psychology professor of mine used to say, the fact that there are larger problems in the world NEVER changes the fact that someone going through personal difficulty still feels upset. You can be upset about your own personal difficulty, no matter how seemingly minor in the scope of world suffering, and still understand that things could be worse. BUT: that things could be worse does not make your own problem any better.

No one has left me any mean or annoying comments in recent days. I have not been accused of being too negative about my own life for awhile. But I've been reading Chris lately, and she's been thinking and writing about this and going through her own hard stuff, and she led me to Mir's post, and, well....it's good food for thought.

1 comment:

Mnmom said...

I think sometimes people share their horror stories because it's an awkward way of showing empathy. Kind of an "I feel our pain" thing. Midwesterners aren't good with emotional issues.

A coworker and I always remark that you just never know what hardships people are carrying on their shoulders at any given moment, and to always remember an attitude of forgiveness.