I’m not going to lie, its been rough lately.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now, and there’s also a lot going on for me in my personal life. It’s been overwhelming. It’s a lot. I’m okay, but I’m struggling.
I’m not really ready or sure that I want to go into specifics but, it got me thinking, why isn’t it enough to just say, “I’m struggling”. Why do I feel this need to justify my feelings?
It seems nowadays, I think as a result of social media and younger generation’s (my generation) willingness to disclose more personal matters online, that saying “I’m struggling” often isn’t enough to get people’s attention or their genuine sympathy.
You see it all the time someone will say, “I’m struggling” and you’ll hear or see the other person reply “Why, what’s up?”. There seems to be this notion that if you say you’re struggling to another person then you have to disclose why you’re struggling in order to warrant that other person’s sympathy.
Instead of saying, “Why, what’s up?” which can pressure or encourage someone to disclose their situation, why don’t we just start by saying, “I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling” or ” I’m sorry to hear that, sending love and thoughts your way”, or “I’m here for you no matter what”.
Why do we feel entitled to know other people’s situations, even when it’s not really any of our business, in order to offer our support or sympathy or comfort?
We seem to live in a world where the rules are if you want sympathy or support you better be willing to lay it all out for everyone to see.
But what if you don’t want or can’t disclose your struggle because it’s private, complicated, uncomfortable, or you just plain don’t want to? Are you not still deserving of people’s love and sympathy?
While disclosure can be very therapeutic and provide release when done in the right environment, under the right circumstances, and with the right person, coerced or pressured disclosure can actually feel invasive and traumatizing. Disclosure without willingness, consent, and a feeling of safety is not good for healing. I’ll admit sometimes knowing the details is helpful when you’re trying to provide solutions or advice, but that’s not always the most supportive response.
I think if we start the conversation with something more supportive and open such as, “I love you and I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling”, we lay the ground work for consensual free disclosure and hopefully healing. And even if it doesn’t lead to disclosure, we’ve sent the message that we are supportive regardless of the details.
I think this habit comes from a human tendency to compare ourselves to others. It’s this sense of being entitled to know in order to give someone our sympathy that shows our ego-centric leanings. I think we also often fall prey to what I like to call the hurt-Olympics, where people try to win by having the worst struggle according to some arbitrary measure. These hurt-Olympics often leave people feeling very invalidated about their struggles and can discourage them from seeking support later on.
It’s easy to let drama, this sense of needing to know, or even just genuine curiousity and concern push us to forget that it’s not actually about us, the listener. Key word: listener. But, I think if we all just take a moment before we respond to remember that it’s not about us that it’s about the other person, we can change this dynamic in our conversations and instead create a much more open and supportive dialogue.
I’m really trying to change how I support those around me when they are struggling. Everyone has a struggle, and it may seem worse or easier than our own, but really it’s their struggle in their life experience and we can’t really say what’s harder or easier. And even if we could with some sort of objective measure, what’s really important is that the person is struggling and they’re looking to us for support.
I want the people that I care about in my life to know that I’m here for them whether they give me all the details or not. Because what we all really need when times are tough is for someone to listen and to say, “That sucks. I’m here for you.”.
Hannah B. L.