By Rachel Puryear
In the previous post, we discussed pseudo-positivity; where people avoid expressing anything negative, to an unhealthy degree which inhibits empathizing with oneself and others. As promised in that post; in this post, I will cover overcoming pseudo-positivity, better empathizing with others and with yourself, and yet still honoring genuine positivity.
Positive and Negative Thoughts Co-Exist, and That’s Normal:
The real world is not black and white. It’s complicated and messy. Problems and issues are nuanced, not easily reduced to simple conclusions. And that’s ok. You can have a lot of positive and negative thoughts and feelings about a person, an event, a place; and you can have them concurrently. They do not cancel one another out, and you can hold both at the same time.
Someone Else Will Always Have it Better, Someone Else Will Always Have it Worse; but Everyone Still Needs Empathy and Understanding:
If you’re struggling with any kind of problem or pain, do you really feel better when someone else says that “others have it worse”? You might pretend to put things in perspective in response, out of a sense of guilt and shame. But deep down, isn’t it rather dismissive and alienating when someone responds in that way?
Certainly, gratitude for the ways in which you are fortunate is good and important. So is a reasonable degree of compassion for the suffering of others; and awareness of how bitterly unfair life is, and recognize and acknowledge where others are less fortunate and have fewer opportunities than you do. These are important parts of being a good citizen of the world, and evolving oneself morally and spiritually.
Many people internalize the notion that to have compassion for oneself equates not also having compassion for others worse off. There is this twisted idea that acknowledging one’s own pain and problems inherently means being ungrateful for the ways in which one is fortunate and privileged.
Frankly, this is absurd. It’s also a logical fallacy known as relative privation.
I have yet to meet one person whose troubles and suffering improved because someone else denied themselves compassion for and acknowledgement of their own troubles and suffering. For instance: I have never met a person who overcame poverty because someone else refused to address their financial difficulties. I have not met anyone whose poor health improved because someone else thought pain they had was not deserving of a doctor visit. I know no one who was physically and emotionally abused in a relationship and saw the abuse magically stop, just because someone else who was “only” being emotionally abused in a relationship decided it wasn’t serious enough to get help for.
Everyone has a mix of good fortune, hardship, pain, and joy in their lives. The ratios will vary widely from person to person, and at different times in life. What we all have in common, though, is a need for empathy and understanding from others. That’s not reserved only for people who meet some arbitrary threshold of pain and suffering (if that were even quantifiable and objective anyway), it’s a basic need of all humans.
Accordingly; we can have compassion for others, and for ourselves. Acknowledging pain of our own troubles does not mean having no regard for the suffering of those much worse off. Recognizing that others are much worse off is not a reason deny oneself compassion and adequate attention to difficulties and problems. You can also empathize with yourself and others in your life, and also appreciate where you and they are also fortunate.
You Don’t Have to Fix Someone, Just Being There and Listening is Enough:
You don’t have to fix other people’s problems. Listening empathically (this will be explored further in a future post) and letting someone know you care goes a long way. This will also tend to help others figure out the best solutions (if there are any) to what they are going through.
Furthermore, having compassion for yourself will not fix all your problems. But it can help you better cope with what’s going on, and even better be able to think of the best solutions available to you. And no, it’s not self-indulgent – it’s necessary.
Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Much love to you. xoxo