Walk in My Shoes
BACKGROUND: A woman online was expressing her anger at how people have been responding to her about the physical pain she has been suffering. People have invoked God, telling her it is God’s will and she was meant to go through this for some greater purpose. She has been blamed for her pain as if she brought it on her self. She made an impassioned plea for people to just empathize with her current state, rather than leap to some explanation that ends up feeling shaming or dismissive.
PROBLEM: It is human nature to want to soothe others by some explanation that you think will help them. It is also true that in the future some people may use their spiritual beliefs to make some sense of whatever life lessons they may glean from painful episodes in their life. So why does it bother the suffering person when that is the first thing you tell them? Why isn’t your reference to making meaning a balm for their wound? How do we best respond to someone in pain?
SOLUTION: I read the following story yesterday that illustrates a simple yet poignant solution from a primate other than human! There was a woman caretaker who missed work for two weeks because she was grieving a miscarriage. When she returned to work, the chimpanzee she was in charge of was angry about her absence and would not look at her. Since the chimp knew sign language, the caretaker decided to tell her the true reason she was gone. She signed, “lost baby”. The chimp looked at her, paused and raised his index finger to the outside of his eye and brought it slowly down his cheek. The woman matched his gesture and cried. Chimps do not cry tears. He was expressing both his sorrow and support for her to express sadness as humans do, by crying. Reading on, I learned that this chimpanzee had lost two babies of her own.
SUMMARY: To respond to someone in pain, look at them. Take them in. Walk in their shoes. Be in the present and do not jump to the future to make meaning. Give them room and support their expression of emotional pain.
POSTSCRIPT: If you are interested in therapy to support emotional expression in a healthy way in the body, or are a therapist interested in learning somatic psychotherapy, contact sciba.org in San Diego or www.bioenergetic-therapy.com