Inspired by a blog posted by Oriah at The Green Bough this week on the limitations of “spiritual cheer-leading”, I found myself thinking about the importance of “being heard” and the healing that can happen when we feel that we have been heard.
Over the last few years, when I was going through a really painful time, I became aware, once again, about how few people know how, or are willing, to offer empathetic support in response to someone else’s pain or grief. When I was terminated from my job 3.5 years ago in a nasty way that was totally unfair, I was disappointed by the response of my family and co-workers. Not all of them; a few listened empathetically and acknowledged the unfairness of it; and those people really helped me to move on. But several were quite flippant about it; oblivious to the trauma associated with being terminated; impatient with my desire to understand why it happened; and incapable of understanding my need to have the value of my contribution at that workplace acknowledged privately and publicly. People wanted me to move on, not as much for me, but for them, because it is painful and uncomfortable to hear about and feel someone else’s pain.
In the 3.5 years since I lost my job, my husband started travelling often, my son left home for college, and my daughter started working or socializing 5 or 6 nights a week. So, all of a sudden, it seemed, I went from having a life full of family, friends and colleagues to a life devoid of people. I was trying to find work, trying to come to terms with being treated so badly at my last job, with no one to turn to for emotional support or companionship. I felt like my life was falling apart, but everywhere I turned, people in my life kept telling me to: “move on”, “get over it”, or “let it go”. I think they meant well but they did not seem to understand that sometimes the only way to “get over it” is to talk about it until we feel that we have been heard; until we feel that our feelings have been acknowledged; until we feel that we have found some internal resolution.
I remember feeling an incredible sense of relief and gratitude when I said to one friend, “I feel like my life is falling apart”, and she replied by saying, “Well, that is because it IS falling apart”. That simple act of acknowledging my reality and affirming my feelings helped me to feel less alone and less lonely. It did not encourage me to wallow in my loneliness; it did not spin me into a fit of despair. It left me feeling met, seen, cared for, acknowledged. That simple act allowed me to heal; to feel that my feelings were warranted; to acknowledge the enormity of the changes occurring in my life; to be gentle with myself.
Similarly, when I wrote about my feelings about being terminated and my kids leaving home on this blog, I was touched, comforted and supported by the comments offered by other bloggers who have gone through, or are going through, similar experiences. It is not that “misery loves company”, it is that all of us wants to feel understood. We want to know that we are not alone with our feelings; that we are not alone with our grief, pain or fear. This compassionate listening and sharing of experiences is, in my opinion, an act of love; one that leads to healing at a spiritual and emotional level. We may not be able to change each other’s circumstances, but we can lessen the pain, grief and fear, or enhance the joy, pleasure and satisfaction, in each other’s lives by hearing each other with open minds and loving hearts.