I have noticed that it’s difficult and rather uncomfortable to sit in silence with a loved one or otherwise significant relationship who is suddenly unhappy.
By in silence, I do not mean ignoring them, puttering on your phone, or listening to music or a sports broadcast via discreetly placed ear buds. By in silence, I mean refraining from fixing or trying to think up some solution to the other person’s unhappiness. By in silence, staying conscious of my desire to provide support for this person. By in silence, I mean a silent beaming of love, good will, trust, and respect for the other person’s emotional state and process.
When my emotional radar picks up a “disturbance in the force”, I notice an almost immediate reaction to FIX IT. Often in the past, instead of calm, gentle silence, I would offer up words or tissue, distracting amusements, food, hugs, or something that feels like “productive” action to comfort the person and/or “fix” the problem.
Why does this happen? In part, I think it is because when someone we are close to hurts, frequently we hurt too. The pain thrums through our system and demands attention. An obvious example is a crying baby. Crying rings a parental alarm to fix and comfort so as to soothe the child and eliminate the uncomfortable noise to make everything all better. And this makes total sense when dealing with kids, but not so much when it comes to adults. In fact, the fixing and comforting game sometimes backfires so that the complexity of the person’s upset is left unaddressed and unresolved (“hey, let’s get high/drunk” or “big boys don’t cry” and so forth). The other person might feel annoyed or even more upset at your proposed fixes because they are not seeking a “solution” in that moment.
EXPERIMENT: I propose trying something new instead of reacting and fixing and trying to make things better. When noticing someone you care about experiencing sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, upset, defeat, or any other unpleasant feeling it might be a good idea to first gently ask how you can be of support to them in that moment. If they cannot think of anything they want in terms of solution/fix support, offer to just BE with them for a while in silence. Often, people want to be seen, heard, received, and accepted just where they are at.
At some point, I let my loved ones know that I trust their experience will offer up something valuable and that meanwhile, during the discomfort, I want to be present and available, to BE with them and quietly hold them in the warm container of my care until they want more interaction.
Eventually, difficult feelings pass. Think back over your life. All those crappy times? They came and they went. So it will continue to be with the next crappy time and the time after that… (and the wonderful times too!) It all comes and goes. Often the most loving, caring, gentle thing to do for ourselves and for our loved ones is take a few deep, slow breaths, be with whatever feelings are present, and notice, notice, notice the emotional movement. Like a high tide eventually recedes, so will intense emotions.
May peace, patience, and loving kindness be yours in this moment.