Saturday, November 13, 2010

Geeze people, no one died.

Sigh. November has been tough and I am hoping that now that the first roughly (very rough in fact) two weeks of the month has passed, things will get better. It seems that everyone has had difficulties this month,  with jobs, finances, school, family issues, and on and on. I fall into the categories of finances and school issues and many of my friends take up the others and/or the same categories.

Much of what has happened cannot be helped by any of us. It's out of our control. Some of it is/was in our control, but either way, I think it's important to address a topic that I have recently been thinking about: Sympathy.

Sympathy is a beautiful thing. It is what allows others to know we care about them and want to be there for them. It is also the thing that can drive a person completely and totally mad if not offered in the right way. There is nothing wrong with the basic response of "I'm sorry." There is, however, something wrong with the response of "OH MY GOD!! I AM SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO SORRY" in either a loud voice or a soft whisper. That kind of "I'm sorry" should be reserved for death or major loss. Otherwise, they're just a little out of proportion, you know?

I know I'm not being very clear with this, so let me put it this way. Sometimes what a person needs in any given situation is something like this: "I'm sorry that happened. I am here for you. How are you feeling about it?" In other words, it's not made into a huge production (unless warranted - see above about death and/or loss), the sympathy is expressed, the offer of being there made, and then a discussion prompted about how the person is feeling.

Now, not everyone needs that sort of sympathy, but I am the type who does. Sometimes the time frame only allows for a quick "I'm sorry," but you can follow up later asking how someone is doing. I have found recently that a lot of people don't understand the type of support that is needed for a particular issue. Sometimes the person who has suffered the loss, whatever it might be, is really OK. It's those around that person who want to turn it into something catastrophic.

In my case, when I tell the people around me who do that, that it's not the type of support I need, they end up apologizing and going into practical hysterics about how they're so sorry they aren't supporting me the way I need them to and then I end up having to comfort them about not supporting me appropriately. WHAT. THE. HELL??

People, if someone tells you that you are not giving them the support they need, instead of freaking out and apologizing for that, how about just asking "What can I do for you, what do you need?" and REALLY listening to the answer and then doing it. Don't freak out and make your lack of support (in the way that particular person needed it) yet another thing for the person to deal with.

I really think there needs to be a class taught in every single grade about how to actively listen, how to appropriately respond to people either in crisis or who have had a minor setback, how to be sympathetic without being overwhelming, etc. That would be much more useful than learning about Catcher in the Rye. All that book taught us was not to be a disturbed prep school drop-out who picks up hookers named Sunny. it may have taught us more than that, but you get my point.


BETHANY said...

Excellent post!

May I add that an elaborate response about a death can be annoying too. Why? Because in that situation the person is hearing "I'm sorry" in all it's forms a ga.zil.lion times a day.

I think a calm, genuine expression of sympathy is alway best. When it followed, as you suggested, by asking what the person needs, then it's even better. And when the needs are respected (a hug, to be left alone, someone to just bring dinner over, etc), then it's ideal. :)

S.I.F. said...

Ha! I'm telling you, I'm really starting to think that the best bet is to keep your mouth shut! :)

Dauphyfan said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! When you are in crisis or just simply need a shoulder to lean on, you have to read their cues. The safest first response is to begin with "I'm sorry" and then followed by "Do you need anything? A hug? Some time?" You get the picture. I found myself in this situation with a coworker who burst into hysterical tears. Her body language was screaming for a hug, but really she just wanted to cry in private and not share this private outburst. So I gave her exactly

Elastagirl said...

YES, yes, yes, there totally needs to be a class teaching people how to listen and what to say (or NOT say!). Sorry you've had a rough couple of weeks. This time of year is just so blah anyway and then to add the crap of life into that can really be a rough combo. Hope things look up soon.