How many times have you been in a conversation with a well meaning loved one and you were told something like “don’t cry”, “don’t worry”, “at least xyz didn’t happen” or “you know what you should do….”?
What happened next? Did you feel heard? Did you feel like sharing more?
My guess is you didn’t.
I joke with my clients that so many of my friends are therapists for this reason.
Here’s the thing.
These kinds of phrases are designed to shut down feelings.
Of course, when you say these things, you are coming from a place of wanting to support and help. We’ve all said these phrases. And. We are in a space and time where we know better and can do better.
Unknowingly, we often say these things because we don’t want someone we love to be in pain. It’s painful to witness. But it’s not about your pain in that moment. It is about theirs.
Being supportive means actually breathing with the pain or discomfort to hold space for your person to share whatever is coming up.
Think about it.
When someone feels free to share their vulnerable feelings with you, you get to have that moment of closeness and connection. Breathing with your feelings to allow space for theirs means they get to have a safe space to come back to with you. Being connected with those we love improves the quality of our daily life, leads to more fun and enjoyment and creates resiliency on all levels.
I know that it feels like you need to do something with the feelings. But, really, you don’t. Just witnessing emotions is often all that is required in order for the feelings to process.
You can say things like:
I can understand why you would feel that way.
That makes a lot of sense.
It’s Ok that you feel x.
Hint: you don’t have to like or agree with the feelings to support someone. How someone feels is valid simply because they feel it. It’s not permanent. If their thinking is off or unreasonable, you can approach that after they have been heard. Otherwise, they are not going to hear you anyway!
If you feel like you have to do something, you can ask:
Is it more helpful to you that I listen right now or do you want feedback?
Committing to breathe with our own feelings while we listen to what is happening for someone else also helps to counteract some powerful (and harmful) conditioning that says our feelings are not OK.
Denying, stuffing down or ignoring feelings is at the root of anxiety, depression and relationship dysfunction.
We want to all be part of evolving our awareness to be inclusive of emotional experiences. This is a good first step towards emotional fluency: we have to allow feelings in order to even start to deal with them. And, dealing with them isn’t that complicated sometimes. Sometimes, they just simply need to be ALLOWED.
(Of course, emotional flooding is on the other extreme end and that is a topic that was covered a different day right here).