Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The "Chin Up" Approach

I am a “suck it up” kind of person. I allow no excuses from myself and demand much. I am strong-willed, confident of my ability to survive and master difficult circumstances, and determined to persevere regardless of sometimes poor odds. I am educated, assertive, and capable of taking control over those aspects of my life which can be controlled. I am not helpless, hopeless, or weak. My outlook on life, though admittedly realistic, is, nevertheless, optimistic and positive overall. I am generally at peace, have a deep sense of purpose, and experience great joy despite the hardships in my life.

But I also have periods of doubt, sadness, and anguish, and because of this, I can appreciate human frailties, even in myself, and I accept them as a given. Further, I have profound compassion for those who find it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whose lives have taken unexpected and unwelcome turns, and whose outlook is less than sunny. Life is not a circus, and people do not spend their days in a perpetual state of bliss. They have times of great suffering, despair, and depression. This is normal, and, I would argue, not necessarily harmful but, rather, an essential part of the eventual healing process – confront and repair, so to speak.

Now, I must say, as one who views the world in this manner, I have currently had my fill of those who seem intent on making the struggling souls who surround me feel as if they are engaging in wrongdoing or somehow failing at life should they have a sorrowful thought, a not-so-rosy momentary perception of the world, fleeting feelings of grief and loss, or a brief sense of hopelessness. This “tyranny of positivity,” as it is named, the reign of which is heralded in some segments of society, particularly disturbs me when it pertains to my Gastroparesis community. As many in my community reflect upon their current circumstances, they find they sorely miss the things and people of the past. They face loss, regrets, disillusionment, unfulfilled dreams, broken promises, and shattered relationships. This all seems a part of life to me, and I view it as a cry for empathy rather than an admission of utter failure and a desperate plea for instruction from those enlightened few who feel the need to instruct others as to how to live.

Yet, all too often, when I see a pronouncement of hardship made by someone who has lost a loved one, is mourning her old life, or is lamenting the fact that she can no longer care for her home and family, maintain employment, complete her education, attend events and celebrations, or engage in other activities once a normal part of life, I likewise witness an array of responses which, rather than seeking to comfort this person, blithely dismiss the significance of her struggle, reprimand her approach, or attempt to nullify her very real concerns and emotions and usher in their personal vision of positivity to the circumstances at hand. (“Oh, honey, it is for the best,” “Well, at least you don’t have X disease,” “It doesn’t do any good to cry about it. Find the blessing in this,” “Chin up,” “What you should do is…,” and “If you would try harder to…,” come to mind.) Some may merely view this as encouragement, but it seems to me people are quite eager to offer unwelcome criticism and advice and not nearly willing enough to console a hurting, grieving human being.

Well, let me tell you plainly, from what I have been able to surmise, sometimes people do not need nor want your words of wisdom or your (perhaps) well-intentioned but ill-timed advice. They do not wish to hear what YOU would do or think they should do, and they do not desire diatribes about what is “healthy,” where they went wrong, or how their situation affects YOU and others. They do not need one more person pointing out their flaws, their shortcomings, or the error of their ways.

What they long for, what they require, instead, is your understanding and your compassion. They simply need you to sit with them quietly, wrap your arms around them, and let them feel, genuinely and passionately, the overwhelming sorrow and pain. They need a moment of self-pity, regret, guilt, shame, sadness, anger, or loathing of their circumstances. They need to “vent,” cry, wail, and rage without fear of condemnation and minus subtle indictments that they have somehow failed by not being “upbeat” enough. They ache for you to save the cheerful speeches and rally cries for a moment when they are not in such dire straits. They yearn to hear are sorry for all they have gone through and all they have lost. They want to know that although you may not be experiencing the same emotions, you genuinely understand and care that they have been touched by them – and that no matter how bad things get, you will be there for them, offering a nonjudgmental shoulder to cry on and a gentle, sympathetic touch.

They seek your acknowledgment, your confirmation, that what they have lost and now mourn holds significance and meaning – that the absence of such is, indeed, a great hardship. When one overlooks or downplays this sorrow, one essentially communicates that the circumstances or the people being grieved are not nearly as remarkable as those lamenting their loss believe them to be. And when one decides for others that it is time to let go, that there have been enough tears, or that “harmful” behaviors must now end, one minimizes the struggles of others and denies them the validation they require to adequately process their loss and move forward in meaningful ways.

These despairing, brokenhearted souls cry out in agony because they long to know someone, somewhere sees their tragic losses, the outrageous injustices they have endured, and the monumental effort it takes to overcome such adversities. They are not weak or senseless or incapable of optimistic thought and positive emotions; they are merely suffering and must grieve as it suits them and progress in the manner of their choosing. So, please, save the stern, accusing denunciations and the “buck up, rah-rah” speeches, and simply offer your open ears and hearts. The philosophizing, moralizing, reproach, instruction, and advice can wait for another, better day.

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