Posts Tagged ‘interpersonal hooha’

When I’m not busy wallowing in misery about the state of my own life, it occurs to me that quite a few of my friends are having a really hard time of it right now as well. Unemployment, debt, deaths, loneliness– it’s probably just my imagination that everything seems so shit at this particular point, but the illusion does remain. It’s gotten me thinking about what I do and say when someone pours out their troubles.

A friend of mine sent me an email today that was basically just a ramble about the problems he’s been having, and it made me realise that the important thing about being a friend isn’t trying to find the right thing to say. When someone talks about how shit they’re feeling, I think too many people feel pressure to say something that will be comforting– which often ends up creating the opposite effect.

For example: “I’m feeling really stressed out right now. I can’t find a job, and I’ve got no money.”

Friend:  “Well, at least you’re better off than someone starving in a developing country!”

Whether said with a chirpy, ‘chin up’ spirit or the patronising tone of a parent trying to get a kid to eat vegetables, that sort of thing usually doesn’t help. I don’t know why it is that you can say these things to yourself, but hearing them from someone else provokes rage and depression. I guess it’s because if you’re feeling too horrible to tell yourself ‘it could be worse,’ the last thing you need is to hear that from another person.

This is not to say that our personal problems are always the mountains we make of molehills, but sometimes they are very mountainous indeed. Things could always be worse, but that’s not the point. The point is, when you’re upset about something, you don’t necessarily want platitudes or empty promises that Everything Will Be Okay.

I think what it comes down to is that too many people want to say the right thing when they probably don’t need to say anything at all. When someone you love is in trouble, you want to do something to help, and if you can’t, you at least want to say something that helps. It’s hard to know whether to say anything at all. But what’s more important than getting answers from people is just acknowledgement. To feel a little less like you’re shouting into a void.

The hardest thing about the last few months for me is when I encounter puzzling silence from people. That silence itself may not have any meaning, but the problem with any blank is the temptation to fill it in. Are they quiet because they don’t know what to say? Because they don’t care? Because they’re preoccupied? It’s mental, but then again, so am I. When you’re already feeling down, it’s easy to read darker meanings into things than they already have. It’s ridiculous and irrational, but so are human beings.

I guess if anything I just wish there was a brief way to acknowledge that you empathise with someone, that you care about what they’re going through, that you don’t have answers, that you wish you could do something to help, that you love them, and that you want things to get better for them. Although I guess you could just say exactly that.


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