I Feel Your Pain
Um, no thanks.
I don’t want you to feel my pain. I don’t want to feel your pain. And, in fact, we shouldn’t, because if we start feeling each other’s pain, processing the other’s emotions in the mistaken idea we are being of help, we are both lost.
Point of clarification: there’s a big difference between being present for someone in trouble and taking on their pain. Being present doesn’t mean being cold and unemotional. It doesn’t mean withholding support or tenderness. It doesn’t mean not feeling sad when someone you care about is hurting.
But your sadness is yours, and their pain is theirs, and understanding the distinction is crucial. When you make someone who is already suffering responsible for your sadness, you’re asking them to comfort you and make you feel okay. No fair. Not their job.
And when you take on someone’s pain for them, you not only lose yourself in a whole world of hurt that doesn’t belong to you, you deny them the opportunity to work through it themselves—which is the only way they’re ever going to get past it. This is not being a true friend.
Imagine a doctor freaking out over your test results. Imagine your mother sobbing hysterically over your divorce. Imagine a lifeguard allowing a drowning person to pull them both under. Not. Helpful.
So hear their pain. Acknowledge their pain. Sympathize with their pain. But for God’s sake, if you want to truly help them, don’t feel their pain.
If you’re lucky, they’ll return the favor.