One time I went for a walk with a friend of mine, and as usual, she started to complain about a problem she had. There were always plenty of them, and in each one there was a lot to analyse. That might have been one of the reasons why I found our walks so enjoyable. Her life seemed to be one complicated puzzle and I loved to dig up different kinds of tools and angles to help her. I felt useful.
The other night we were walking around an area full of wooden houses, when suddenly she interrupted my enthusiastic solution seeking by saying irritatedly: ”Do you always have to try to solve my problems?” With that statement she completely threw me off guard – and made me feel a bit angry too. “What am I supposed to do then, huh?”, I replied sharply. My friend said: ”Well, you could just say how that really sucks!”
I thought this was an absolutely incomprehensible concept. Why would she share her problems with me, if she didn’t want any help or advice? Why wouldn’t I offer my solution, if I had one? What kind of an answer is ”that really sucks” anyway? What’s the point in that?
Since then I have come to understand, that I was wrong and my friend was right.
A piece of advice given without permission is an insult
The claim on the heading is captured from one of Jari Sarasvuo’s numerous monologues. It has been really hard to accept and from time to time it still causes some difficulties for me. But if you think of any situation in which someone has, without asking, started to advice you on your problems, have you been grateful or rather annoyed?
If I want to find the solution on my own, I won’t be asking for help. If I get it anyway, it feels insulting. Am I being treated as a total idiot? As if I weren’t able to handle this myself?
Most of the advice are obvious to such an extent that they appear almost insulting. Everyone knows that when you’re sick you go to see the doctor and if you want to get rid of the extra weight you gained on Christmas time, you do it by exercising and following a healthy diet. Besides, we usually have already browsed the interned and found a solution or two. It is not very often that we really need advice and if we do, it will be asked by us.
Now comes the hardest concept for me to comprehend. Even if we don’t want advice or don’t ask for it, we still talk about our troubles with one another. Of course not everyone does that. Some want to keep it private, but others want to share. I’m one of the latter.
If we don’t complain about our problems in order to get help, then why do we do that at all? It is because we need support. Support is not the same thing as advice.
Sit with me in the dark
Brené Brown talks about vulnerability in her course of lectures called Power of Vulnerability. She explains how people showing their vulnerability long for the other to come and sit with them in the same darkness. Not in order to advice them, but to face them.
We whine about the tricky situations, because we want to be seen by the other completely, with our pain included. We want to be heard with empathy – not with pity – and we want to feel that we are not alone, that there is someone who understands and has gone through the same. That there is someone to support us.
And suddenly I became aware why back in the days my friend wanted me to say to her: ”That really sucks!” She wanted me to sympathize with her experience. She wanted to feel that I understood her and that I’d maybe gone through the same and I would be there for her. And that I wouldn’t try to offer her solutions that she already very well knew.
How should we sit in the dark?
Easier said than done. Partly because it’s hard for us to remain calm when the other is suffering. That’s why we try to solve the problems or make them seem less serious or turn the situation for the better as fast as we can. Instead, we should sit still, breathe and be present.
Here are a few ways, approved by both Brown and I, how to sit in the dark with the other
- Sympathize: What a tricky situation. I can’t even imagine what you are going through right now.
- Share the experience: I know how you feel. I have experienced something similar.
- Let the other one talk: Would you like to tell me more about it? How do you feel? What happened then?
- Show your support: I’m here. Let me know if I can help you.
- Be involved without giving advice: It appears to me that you are being awfully hard on yourself.
Nowadays I recognize this myself as well. After a long day, or in a difficult situation I don’t expect my loved ones to solve anything for me. They don’t have to make it better, and they usually even couldn’t do that. The most important thing is the feeling that the other person is interested about my pit and is willing to sit there with me for a while.
It’s easier to slowly stand up next to the other than alone.
Or what do you think? Come and have a chat at Koodarikuiskaaja Slack.