If I am not for myself, who is for me?
If I am only for myself, who am I?
And if not now, when?
I’ve been leading a free Davis Compassionate Communication Practice Group for over two years now. And I’ve been leading classes in Davis and Sacramento for about as long. And one thing that I’m always impressed by is the simple healing that happens when people get a chance to merely share their pain with a group, and discover that they are not alone.
I’m in awe when a participant raises their hand, and with tears in their eyes, says “I have so much relief knowing that I am not alone with my pain. Knowing that others struggle with the same thing I struggle with makes it easier to accept it.” Whether it’s difficulty accessing and connecting with one’s emotions, accepting their own self unconditionally, or trying to lay aside judgment and blame.
Pain is isolating. Our culture shames people out of sharing their stories with one another. Need proof? What does our culture say about people who are struggling with addictions? What does our culture say about people who lose their temper, and yell and scream at their family? What does our culture say about having persistent moods of sadness, anxiety, or anger?
I see our culture labeling these people as having a “problem”. That there’s something “wrong” and that it “needs to be fixed”. And when I see depictions in movies or TV shows of people opening up to friends and family about these issues I see two kinds of responses. ”You need to get help” and “well, let’s take your mind off of it.”
People who struggle with self-acceptance, healing old wounds, processing strong emotions, and being compassionate with others are truly having a human experience. Recognizing these human experiences as shared experiences opens you up to seeing that life is bigger than just you, that you are connected to a much larger humanity than just yourself.
When you witness the end of someone’s tragic struggle with pain, have you ever thought or asked “why didn’t they tell anyone sooner?” The answer is probably that they didn’t feel safe to share their pain.
Consider what your knee jerk response would be if a close friend, or family member, said to you “you know, sometimes I just really can’t let go of mistakes I’ve made. It keeps me up at night, and when I’m alone and thinking about how much I’ve screwed up, I don’t really like myself.” Or “I just blow up sometimes. You know I try to avoid fighting; I try to keep my cool most of the time. But then it just becomes too much and I yell and scream. I feel really guilty about it.”
Would you respond with listening, showing empathy, inviting the other person to share more about what they’re feeling and what their experience is, and making it clear that you have unconditional acceptance for their experience?
Would you care deeply about them and a desire to help change their experience? Would you direct them to “get help”, or to take some time to relax and think about something else? Would you try to reassure them that they are “ok” and that they’re “not that bad”?
Would you be angry and upset with them, disappointed, and inform them of what you expect of them to be doing about their experience?
That first option creates the most safety for people to open up and share. And if you would do the first option, how do you let people know you’d provide that space for them? Do you share with others your own pain? Do you model an awareness of emotions and empathy in even your regular conversation?
For people to feel safe sharing their pain, they need to know it is going to be received with acceptance, compassion, and empathy.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.