I cried the day after Clayton left for his first 2 week deployment. Big rain drop tears poured from my eyes. I missed him, and was afraid of what it would be like to be alone in a strange city.
Everyone’s reactions to those first few sentences will be completely different. Some people will empathize with me, while others will begin to tell me how much worse their situation is compared to mine. I’ve experienced both.
Today, I want to discuss what it feels like when someone dismisses the way I feel, and decides to tell me how I should feel instead.
I try my hardest to keep my head high and not act sad when Clayton is gone, but some days are harder than others. I’m a very open person, and have no problem sharing my feelings with people. Unfortunately, I’ve often received an unhealthy response when I share my feelings. In the military community especially, I’ve noticed wives, fiances and girlfriends trying to one up each other. Not sure what that means?
Let me give you an example. A conversation might go something like this:
Me: “I’m having a really hard time with Clayton being gone for these two weeks.”
Other person: “Really, it’s only two weeks! That’s nothing. When my husband/boyfriend/fiance was gone, I was pregnant with triplets, had pneumonia, my house flooded, my dog died, and I was robbed at gun point.”
Me: “Oh. Well, I guess my situation is NOT that bad.”
Ok. So, obviously this conversation is very exaggerated, but my point remains the same. When someone immediately dismisses how I feel, without taking the time to simply listen it hurts. I mean what am I supposed to say after a conversation like that?
If a person genuinely opens up to you about what they are going through, it’s never ok to dismiss that person’s feelings.
We are all different people with different problems and struggles. What’s hard for me is not going to be hard for you, and vice versa.
Empathize not Sympathize:
The military community is not the only place I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen it happen to people struggling through divorce, cancer, and mental illness.
As humans, we are always looking for ways to relate to others. I don’t believe that people mean any harm when they tell me about how much worse their experiences are than mine. I just don’t think they know how to react to someone sharing their feelings as freely as I do.
To me, this is a slight problem in our society. By no means, am I saying that we should all sit around on mats in a yoga studio sharing our every thought and feeling with each other.
But, what needs to happen is empathy. When I share how I am feeling about Clayton being gone, I am not looking for someone to pity me or feel sorry for me (sympathy). I am simply looking for someone to say, “I understand what you are going through, I hear you, it does get better. (empathy).
You and Me:
Americans in general are tough. We bounce back from tragedy, and work hard. But, we also don’t take care of ourselves and each other the way we should.
Even though it’s the 21st century, we are still a very guarded, judgmental bunch. People don’t feel free to express their struggles, especially when it comes to the way we feel. We constantly hide what we are going through, in fear that others will judge us.
We need to cut that shit out. Just because I cry sometimes, doesn’t make me weak. Just because I express my feelings openly, doesn’t make me a whiner.
I’m far from perfect, and I have a lot to learn myself. We need to stop telling each other how to feel, and simply start listening.