We have two main categories, good or bad, that we tend to place our feelings. We have fallen into the trap that you need to sum up and choose which feeling will define you, when asked “How are you doing?” Have you ever responded to this question with the real answer and saw the other person’s body language shift, attempting to rush you along? We don’t fully understand the consequences this has on us because this is our ‘norm’ in society. It’s asking someone to quickly take inventory of the surplus of emotion we are experiencing at any given time and choosing ONE, just one, to sum up how we are doing!
This may not seem like a big deal, when you run into a neighbor at the grocery store and ask how they are. However, what about when you ask a cancer survivor or someone dealing with another significant life event or illness? Cancer survivors often share they are encouraged to “Keep fighting! Don’t give up!”, after they just disclosed how scared they are after receiving poor test results. It implies, if someone expresses fear, they are not being hopeful. Can you see how the cancer survivor may even need to defend him/herself after this ‘encouraging’ comment? Can’t someone be scared and yet still be hopeful? Consider a griever being told, “Be grateful for the time you did get to spend together”, after they shared how sad they are without their loved one. When we grieve, it doesn’t mean we are not grateful. When someone had the courage to express their pain and vulnerability, does this reminder really help?
I can almost guarantee the family or friend, in the above examples, meant well by their intended uplifting messages. However, imagine if we didn’t force someone to choose from the ‘either-or (bad or good)’ category, when asked how they are doing. What if they were given the opportunity to possess feelings of hope AND fear (pain AND gratitude), when they respond to your question?
What if we honored and allowed everyone, including ourselves, to express the full-range of emotions we experience as humans. When did we start taking away the option to respond, “D: All of the above”? We are blessed with the gift to FEEL. Imagine the message of validation and understanding your loved one would receive by saying, “You have been through so much lately. I can hear how scary it is for you now. What keeps you going?” Or, “I can hear how much you loved and appreciated your husband/wife. What do you miss most about him/her?” This response validates the cancer survivors, strength and fear, and the grievers, pain and gratitude. It also sends the message you don’t want to hear just the summary. You want to honor their feelings and share a connection. When giving advice, it implies you know what will help someone better than they do. When you listen to their story and validate their feelings, you are allowing and supporting your loved one’s natural healing abilities and strength. You send
the message, “I am here for you. I care ”. One of the simplest and
most caring responses to deepen intimacy and create connection
is to say, “Tell me more ….”