There’s nothing worse than watching someone you love struggle with a difficult situation. You feel helpless – nothing you say or do feels right, everything you say and do just seems to make it worse, and you rack your brain trying to figure out what to DO. But nothing works. And you desperately want to DO something. You want to make it go away. You want to fix it. But you can’t.
It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?
What I’ve come to learn is that there is something you can do. It can’t fix, rehabilitate, unwind or erase. But it can help heal. It’s simple: empathy. I thought I had the empathy thing down. But I’ve come to learn that – well, I have much to learn. 🙂 Author, speaker and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown gives the best definition of empathy that I’ve ever seen in this short video. I’ve shared it with my kids (it’s a narrated cartoon!) to help them understand. A colleague and friend shared it with me some time back and I’ve watched and shared it many times.
I recently watched it again when I realized I needed an empathy ‘reboot.’ Putting empathy into practice is hard when someone you love is hurting. My natural go-to is logic – explaining why something is happening, how to see it differently, and of course, the next steps and ‘action items.’ (I’ve been in the corporate world for…ever.) As you can imagine, what works at work doesn’t work so well when it comes to matters of the heart. I’m good at hugs and praise.
What I am coming to learn is that I don’t always have to have a well-thought out plan, communication strategy, timeline, right answer, logic. Sometimes, all I need to do is put myself in the other person’s shoes and say – that must hurt. That must be awful. You must have felt so disappointed. Frustrated. Sad. Whatever the emotion is. What do you need? You know…empathy. Sounds simple, right? Not so much, if you’ve been relying on logic for years. I am trying.
I have also learned that if you put out to the universe what you need, the solutions will come. I recently reached out to an old friend who I knew could relate and asked her what she did to stay positive in a challenging situation such as loving someone who was struggling. She said she didn’t have an easy answer and wrote me a wonderful, caring note expressing what she does to help her loved one. Here’s what I gleaned from her positive words – it helped me immensely and I hope it helps you, too. It’s three things: Accept. Embrace. Love.
Accept that this is where you are. Accept that this is what your loved one (or maybe you) are struggling with. Accept that things may not be what you had hoped they would be. Accept that this sucks. Accept that you are sad, disappointed, pissed off, every emotion in the book. Accept help, Accept that not everyone will understand. That’s okay. They don’t need to. As long as you do.
Embrace what you have, who your loved one is, who you are, and let go of what you had hoped for, what you thought could be. Embrace what is. Embrace a new future, a new way of thinking, a new path. Embrace what could be. Most importantly, embrace your loved one. Give them the biggest damn hug you’ve got every. Single. Time.
Love your person. Then love them more. Marinate them in love. I see my friend put this into practice from a distance and it inspires me so much. Remember to love yourself, too. Take care of you so you can take better care of them. But most of all, love them through the good days and bad. Be there. Listen. Open your heart. Rinse and repeat.
At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own happiness. But when you love and care about someone who is struggling, you want to be there for them. It’s never easy. But you can do it. You can get through this. Have empathy. Accept, embrace, love. It’s my new plan. Fingers crossed. I will let you know how it goes.