A friend of mine recently lost a loved one, and during one of our chats, she told me the most interesting thing. She hates the words, “my condolences”. “It’s so cold!” she told me. “I’d prefer they said nothing at all, than said that.” It was something I’d never thought about. “My condolences” – it’s like a safe word. It’s “the known” thing to say to someone who’s grieving.
As I listened to her, I understood that this was such an emotionally-intense time for her, that the words “my condolences” just didn’t connect with her pain at all. She almost experienced it as being brushed off. It didn’t feel like a genuine reaching out from the other person – a wanting to connect, to let her know she wasn’t alone. Instead it felt like a heartless societal norm; the intention of which was harmless but was received as hurtful nonetheless.
I am Forgotten
Sometimes, we go through things in life and people just don’t get it. A person experiencing depression is told to “look at the bright side”. A person pining for their ex is told to “move on”. Well-meaning individuals bombard sick people with unsolicited and unstudied advice. And sometimes, we come across people who make the situation all about them, “that’s nothing, let me tell you what happened to me!”
In this busy, distracted world, it is easy to feel totally unseen. But it is most painful to experience being forgotten by those we love the most. Our partners, mothers, fathers, siblings, children and closest friends. When these people don’t show up for us in our hours of darkness – fucking ouch!
Along with all the pain we are already carrying, we feel we can’t go anywhere with it. This doesn’t just result in us feeling alone, we feel deeply hurt. And what happens to hurt? We either cry about it or we get angry.
We wonder how the fuck this person could be so insensitive. Why can’t they be there for us like we were there for them? Why have they forgotten us? We conclude we must not be important enough to them – they must love someone else more than us. Or maybe they’re just a selfish asshole.
But what do these conclusions do for us except make us cold? These judgements leave us bitter.
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean” – Maya Angelou
I’m not telling you to suppress your response to the “uncaring” that you experience. If you are hurt, embrace it. Cry, and be angry. It’s totally fine. But don’t let other people’s insensitivity make you bitter because then, you become the asshole.
So, let me help you sweeten your pain.
- Acknowledge you’re hurt. Acknowledge that the behaviour you witnessed or the words received caused you to feel pain.
- Does this person show you love in other ways? Answer this honestly. Perhaps they don’t know how to process your dark emotions with you – maybe it is an area of life they are just not comfortable going to – but do they worry about you/call you/want to be with you? Sometimes, our loved ones don’t show up in the ways we wish they would, but they’re there in the ways they know how to be.
- Look at them with love. Remember that just like you and me, they are a person-in-process. The people we love are imperfect, they mess up, they get it wrong. Sometimes, they have no clue of how to be there for us. Some of them we can teach, and some of them we can’t. But when we look at them with love – acknowledging that even though they hurt us, they do love us – that hole of hurt in our chest, fills with warmth again. And the bitterness fades away.
I want to be sure that you don’t think I’m saying, “Allow others to forget you” or “It’s okay for others to treat you badly”. Listen to your hurt – the way this person is responding to you is not okay for you. With the awareness that this is not okay, you can choose to either discuss it with your loved one, or to accept and let it go. Whichever you choose, allow the 3 steps above to guide you. When we approach our loved ones with love, we move closer.