When someone begins to tell us about a personal struggle, the urge to solve, pacify or minimize their experience can become overwhelming. This reaction is born out of discomfort. It is hard to be with another person’s pain because we can feel helpless.
Solving other people’s problems can give us a false sense of control. This can be over the situation, the other person and even ourselves. And this knee-jerk reaction to regain the upper hand is not surprising. We want to be seen in a certain way, and other people’s problems present scenarios where we can play these desires out. Perhaps we want to be seen as strong, generous, wise or compassionate. And are any of these attributes really so terrible? I’d argue that they aren’t but the need for control that drives them can be.
When confronted with another person’s pain, we need to constantly be checking in with ourselves, especially before we offer any advice or solutions. This is especially true when the solution either asked for or offered by us requires us to jeopardize our own safety. This can be financial, emotional or even physical. People who are scared and in any kind of pain may react unkindly or deceptively to those trying to help. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like chelation therapy, where by being exposed to a suffering person’s mistreatment or manipulation you can somehow bind to their pain and neutralize it.
Instead, we need to choose the path of authentic and unconditional love. By constantly checking in with ourselves, we ensure that we are acting in a way that is genuine, instead of manipulative. We do not know what is best for another person. They do. What we can offer is enough love so that they can learn to trust themselves.
Making space for someone’s pain is hard. Sometimes this means listening and putting the mental origami of how you’re going to solve this person’s life aside. Other times, this means saying I love you but I can’t be here with you right now. That’s okay too. When we learn to offer another person the space to be with their own pain without the need to change it for our own comfort or preferences, we give ourselves the same gift of acceptance, as we are, in this very moment.