My last article, How to Love an Empath struck a chord.
Most people (whether they will admit it or not) feel silenced and imprisoned. They hold their feelings hostage for fear of being rejected or judged for expressing their emotions without reserve.
It’s socially unacceptable to show our emotions publicly. We are taught to keep them tucked away from the outside world.
I’ve never understood this unwritten policy and I refuse to abide by it. I stand naked anywhere I am—if I’m happy, sad, angry or frustrated I expose myself.
A few days ago, I was overwhelmed—I broke down.
My responsibilities came crashing down on me all at once; owning two yoga studios, the dedication to my writing practice, caring for my two young daughters, maintaining a household, attending appointments, nurturing my relationships with my family, my boyfriend and my friends.
I felt alone, scared and panicked.
I knew what I needed to do in order to return to calm; I needed to curl up and cry so I could rid my system of fear.
The only way I know how to regain my strength is to dive head first into what I’m feeling, swim around until I’ve had enough and then, dry myself off and move forward.
I reached out to the friends who I knew would hold me without question, allowing me to process what I was feeling freely.
That evening as I laid in bed, centered and calm, I thought about the action of comforting a person. What were the actions that supported my healing and what hindered my healing?
I thought of two components I believe are necessary in order to comfort and support a person entirely.
1. Only give a hug if you’re asked for one.
In the writing workshops and women’s support groups I lead, I have a rule—no touching unless you are asked to touch.
Have you noticed when someone is upset, your reflex is to reach out and touch their back or envelope them in a hug?
We do this partially out of our desire to be sympathetic, but there is also an unconscious impetus for our ‘compassion.’
We don’t want to witness or feel pain, therefore our natural instinct is to soothe the discomfort.
We want to extinguish the flames so we don’t have to feel the searing pain of anguish of another, because it reminds us of our own pain.
If our gestures could speak they would say, “Please stop crying. I hate seeing you like this. I am unbearably uncomfortable with your rawness because I am uncomfortable with my own. Please stop so neither of us have to feel it.”
When we do this, we halt the process of true healing. The only way a human being can move through something, is completely; until the tears and the screams stop on their own.
As Robert Frost says, “The only way out is through.”
When we reach out and touch someone, it blocks their passage through the pain.
My job as a comforter is to create and protect a safe space for a person to walk all the way through without judgment or criticism.
It’s important to remember if someone wants to be comforted, they will ask for it. Wait for permission and when they give it to you, open your arms and hug them until they tell you to stop.
2. Shut your mouth. Keep the advice inside.
Recently, someone said to me, “I see it, but it’s for you to see, for you to figure out. I can’t tell you, you have to realize it yourself.”
I was moved by her comment. It wasn’t her job to tell me what to do, it was for me to discover on my own.
We deliver advice when we are uncomfortable with the silent power of listening.
The best advice we can give a person is no advice.
I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve spoken way too much when I should have been quiet. I impeded the healing process of others, because I was insecure with myself. I was telling them what I wanted to say, not what they needed to hear (which was nothing).
People will always see things for themselves if they are given the space to speak and listen to their own words. In the silence is where the answer is found, at least that’s my experience.
Advice is opinion.
When you give advice, you are stating your opinion. When someone is in a vulnerable place, they don’t need to hear your opinion, they need to hear their own.
The best thing you can do for someone who is in upheaval is to remain grounded, steady and quiet.
When I comfort someone I repeat to myself, “Be the rock.” Rocks don’t speak, rocks don’t move and when someone is unglued they need to be held in one place, anchored and secure so they can see clearly from their perspective.
We must understand our own emotions and become comfortable with being uncomfortable within ourselves, before we can be strong enough to comfort another.
We are on this planet to comfort one another as we walk all the way through this life together, so let’s stop tripping each other.