‘There is no grief like that one that does not speak.’ Indeed there is nothing more healing than opening up to a friend about our struggles. It brings pure sunshine into our day – we feel connected and supported. However what if we open up to someone and we are not heard and seen? The person either changed the subject or started to talk about his/her own issues or said platitudes such as “all will be fine”. Now our vulnerable feelings are all out there and we are left alone with them. What if this person is a good friend or family member? Someone we thought we are safe with and we thought is caring about us…why do people have reactions like this?
Unfortunately, because we are so close, we always have higher expectations towards friends and family members, it is unavoidable to not become emotional about it. Of course most people’s intention is to support, they just often don’t know how. When everything is great in life, it is easy to get along, but when life happens and people struggle we need each other. However not everybody is always a good match during this time. No matter how close we are.
We would think reasons for this behavior could be, they are in a different life situation or they have their own issues or are from another generation. What I have learned along the way is, it comes down to only one reason: Feeling empathy or not. It doesn’t matter to people with empathy in what life situation they are in, or if they have their own package to carry. They can always put themselves in other peoples’ shoes and feel with them. Whereas people with little to no empathy tend to not feel their own feelings. They learned in life to suppress them and distract themselves as fast as possible to not even come near them. Most likely, if you open up to one of them they will use the same tactic on you. I had once someone say to me. “I thought you would pull yourself together for me”. After I had told her that I couldn’t babysit for her child, because it’s too painful for me we just had another IVF failure. That was tough to hear. However from knowing her well, it became clear to me this is how she treats herself. Same tactic used on me.
It is not just one comment or one word that shows a lack of empathy. It adds up over time and then it becomes a clear pattern. People with empathy might also say something that feels painful, but their support and interest in you and your situation shows how they care. We are all different and we all say things that might not feel right for the other person, what counts in the end is that they feel our empathy. In any difficult life situation like break-ups, divorce, sickness, loss…it is impossible to only hear the right things. Especially when others around us live the life we are wishing for. They have their own ups and downs where they also need us and want us to be part off. When empathy is mutual, people bear with one another and everything is possible then. One thing is for sure. The ones with empathy will always have an understanding for your feelings.
I made another interesting experience about certain reactions, they were also often caused due to false assumptions in our society. People assume, when they talk about feelings they get worse. They think, if they distract the other person they will cheer them up. Not totally wrong, it speaks nothing against cheering up a friend, but first it is important to acknowledge the existing feelings and asking questions rather then explaining the grief away. This happens often automatically, society is so used to it, that’s why we have so many platitudes. The intention is good. It is to get the other person pain free asap, but unfortunately that doesn’t work.
For example, when we had our IVF failures people said to me. “Not having kids is still a great life.” I was still struggling with my experience and we had started to think about adoption. So we were still in the middle of pursuing our baby wish and others already had closed our chapter. Staying in the presence and asking questions is always most helpful in situations like this. Feeling heard and seen helps the other person to process and relax.
How do we deal with hurtful reactions? If the person was important to me, I was always looking for a conversation. I assumed that my situation must have been difficult for everybody around me and I wanted to stay connected and find a way to get through this together. I didn’t want to turn away angry or getting the stigma. “Oh we need to tip toe around Birgit”. That wasn’t always easy, but communicating is key, it either makes things better or not. If not, there is always the choice to take a step back for your own good.
There will be many comments and a lot of pregnancy announcements along the way that will be very painful, it is impossible not to be, just for the fact of it. It is a very vulnerable situation to be in, especially because it is so private and invisible. If people tell others about a break-up or sickness, people easily show compassion, because it is something they can imagine. Fertility issues most people cannot relate to and that makes it very difficult for them to understand your feelings.
Anyhow, I am sure you have the right people around you, just choose wisely to who you will open up to. Talk about situations that were painful for you, it is always worth it, people will become more sensitive around you. From the ones who don’t take a step back, there might be another time in life where you are better match again. Most importantly stay open to also new people, they might got sent your way for a reason and look out for the ones who share your situation. Nothing is more soothing than people who understand you without words.
I am one of them! 🙂
This post is dedicated to the people around us who had been there for us during our 7-year journey. Thank you for listening, crying and laughing with us. We couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for your empathy along the way…B&A