Saturday, May 17, 2008

Empathy and Kindness

PREFACE: What I say here are my observations and are NOT meant as judgments. What I am sharing is my personal introspective journaling because in the hope it can be read with an open mind and not defensiveness. I am NOT pointing fingers at anyone, or putting myself above anyone else. I HARDLY think I "know it all" or even begin to have all the answers. That is NOT at all my intent. HONESTLY! I am a lowly person struggling my pain as we all are and sharing some insights and observations that have been enlightening for me in the hope they may likewise be for someone else..

I sincerely hope that comments will try to be civil and constructive.
No flaming or bashing will be tolerated. Thank you.

Most writings on anger after loss speak of it as a "stage" in the "grieving process", a process that is expected to last approximately a year or so.

But for those of us who suffer irresolvable grief as a result of trauma and loss, we likewise have to deal with lifelong anger as a recurring theme, or as one mother described it: a dark cloud that hovers every aspect of our life. Some deal with it overtly, some passively, some subdued and dulled because of personal coping skills or learned social behaviors; some because of medication, or therapy, or directing it into socially acceptable constructive solutions.

I believe that anger is grief's twin, or perhaps more exactly, its big protective brother. Grief is quiet, introverted and introspective...tortured, suffering. So big brother ANGER steps in to protect grief from harming itself. Anger is in equal pain, but is far more macho and won't shed a tear cause that's a sign of weakness.

Anger is not quiet at all and often refuses to be quieted. Anger shouts and rants and rages. Anger wants justice, or revenge, or vengeance. Anger feels it is "owed" that much for the hurt it has experienced!

Some of us get very comfortable with the protection anger affords our more vulnerable, grief-stricken little sister. Others fear that our big brother might hurt someone or him(our)self. Many of us are unaccustomed to anger and have been taught its not polite and should always be kept under control - like a dog a tight leash and not let loose.

I experience at varying times grief, sadness, frustration, and anger. Sometimes I find myself reacting to the smallest thing like a car making a very last minute exit cutting me off. The feeling that causes the anger is: "How dare you get in my space like that?" And if someone is in front of me driving too slowly, I get frustrated.

I know that it is a metaphor for those who try to block me, stop me, thwart my those who didn't support me or offer any help or options to keep my daughter. And so in my car, all alone, I curse at the driver: "Get out of my way you $%& jerk!" And then I chuckle to myself, remembering the George Carlin joke:
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”

And that makes me think about the line in the Rolling Stone song: "He can't be a man 'cause he don't smoke the same cigarettes as me." How prophetic. How we judge people. Those who are slower, those who are faster, those who are louder or one of Jerry Seinfeld's pet peeves about a date - she was a soft talker!

Intolerance of difference. Judgments. We make millions of judgments every day. Having good judgment is an asset, but we are also cautioned not to be too judgmental.

The same is true of anger. Too little anger and you could become a doormat and allow yourself to be abused. (And far too many of us - simply because we are female - have experienced abuse in our lives.) Too much anger, however, and you might become violent or burn a bridge; lose a friend.

And then there is the all important issue of where and how to direct one's anger "properly" and more importantly - effectively!

The less effectively we project our anger, the more angry we feel. Now on top of the original cause of our anger we are angry at ourselves for screaming and shouting and getting no where, getting nothing done, and things remaining the same. We feel impudent (and that angers us still more) and our frustration level rises and more anger brims forth and spills all over everyone that gets anywhere near us, and especially anyone we feel is in our way....even those who are there to help us.

And so we lash out at those closest to us, finding any difference to separate us from them - to see them as "other." People in extreme emotional pain often cannot imagine anyone else's pain could possibly be as severe as their own.

A friend who is a psychotherapist told me that is very common in self-help support groups of all kinds - those for people dealing with physical ailments, or substance abuse, or issues such as incest or the death of a loved one. It is common I was told to try to compare, judge and try to "one-up" others in the group because some cannot believe that anyone else is in as much pain or has suffered as much as they have.

Sadly, but not too surprisingly, we find this among mothers who have lost children to adoption. One recently wrote to me that someone told her she had "luxuries" that they didn't, referring to some option or other at the time she lost her child. I was told that my situation was not as "oppressive" as others. Judgments are being made as to who suffers more and people coming for compassion and understanding are feeling hurt and ostracized.

If we were old ladies in a nursing home comparing our surgery histories it would be almost comical to hear us saying: "My scar is bigger than yours" "Yeah but I lost more blood" "That's nothing. I was declared dead!"

Suffering and surviving earns a badge of courage that each of us deserves no matter how big or small or suffering. It is human nature to compare and judge every car and passerby. But it's a cruel and fruitless habit. Each of us is here reading this blog, in our groups, on our list for SUPPORT and camaraderie with others of like-minds and/or to band together to fight the real enemies, not each other. None of us is here to be judged, We are marginalized and judged enough by society at large. Compassion is not a limited resource. There's enough for all of us. Like love, the more you give, the more you will receive. Next time you find yourself writing something judgmental - stop before hitting send and try it a little empathy and kindness instead.

When I'm in a better, calmer place and a car cuts me off to make a last minute turn from the wrong lane, or is driving ten miles under the speed limit in the left lane, I ask myself what's my rush. I also remember that it is said that we judge and are angry at people when we are judgmental and angry with ourselves, and when we see something of ourselves that we are not fond of in them. Have I not also had to turn quicker than I would have liked to? Perhaps waved an "I'm sorry" at the car I cut off accidentally 'cause I didn't see it in my blind spot?

And then I think of all the reasons he or she might be driving ten miles below the speed limit in the left lane. Maybe the driver is very old, or a brand new driver. Maybe there's something wrong with their car. I don't know because I haven't walked a mile in that persons shoes but just for once I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and just for today, give them kindness instead of my anger 'cause my anger is only going to hurt me, not them! It's amazing how much better I feel when I do that then when I huff and puff and curse alone in my car!

And so while grief has a big bad brother...I leave you with this thought:

"Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they don’t remain the way they are."
St. Augustine

May we all find the courage to be the change we want to see!

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