"I'm sad." Just cheer up.
"I'm anxious." Just take a deep breath and calm down.
"I'm angry." Just count to 10 or walk away.
"We're having trouble getting pregnant." Just adopt! Just relax!
We think these above statements display empathy. But, really they are pity-filled sympathetic responses to provide that quick fix or attempt to "try to make it better."
It seems like a lot of us struggle with empathy. Empathy skills are not necessarily being taught. And, I think, we even sometimes think we would rather have sympathy than empathy.
Sympathy is 'I feel for you'; pity.
Empathy is 'I feel with you,' I get it.
The confusion is that we are mistaken in thinking that we must have gone through the exact same thing in order to have empathy. But this isn't how it works. In order to be empathetic, we simply need to be able to understand and know what it feels like to feel the feeling that someone is experiencing.
So, we all (outside of, perhaps, Frank Underwood from House of Cards) are able to show empathy. Still, we are so quick to fix it through sympathy.
When we hear someone is struggling, we want to take away the pain, we want to make it better, we want to fix it. Because we don't like to feel sad or mad or disappointed ourselves, let alone be with someone we care about in their sadness or anger or disappointment.
We can't stand this discomfort. We struggle to sit with them through it. So, we try to fix it with a quick solution, a just stop talking about it.
And when we do this, we minimize and invalidate; even if it does come from a place of love.
Practicing empathy means being willing to sit with someone in their discomfort. It means being willing to just be with someone, maybe not saying a single word or simply saying, that is so hard, that sucks, I can't imagine, ugh.
With empathy, we are never alone.
The world needs a whole lot more compassion in every area. But through my work on Ever Upward, fertility seems to be one of the biggest areas. This is why I birthed fertility compassion.
Because everyone has an opinion on family planning and it is assumed that everyone wants, needs and is able to make a family. When in reality, this can't be farther from the truth.
My #fertilitycompassion survey had three questions. The first was, "What have been some of the most ignorant/hurtful questions or statements said to you in regards to family planning?"
The responses fell into 11 categories:
1. God's plan -- my heart hurts with these
You're just not being faithful enough. You aren't praying the right healing prayers. It's just not in His plan for you to be a mom. It's just not meant to be."
2. Just adopt -- such a lack of understanding
"Just adopt. Why don't you just foster? There are so many kids who need good homes. Don't you think you should save a child before having any more of your own?"
3. Getting pregnant is so easy -- 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage
"You're so young, you have so much time. A lot of women miscarry! You were so early!"
4. Just relax -- if only it were this simple for all of us
"Have a margarita. Just don't think about it."
5. But you're the lucky one -- the one-upper, I have it so much worse
"You have it so easy without kids. Oh, I'm a terrible mother, you can have my kids. You can borrow mine any time."
6. Parenting is the only purpose
"You aren't a parent; you wouldn't understand. Kids are the only purpose we have in life. Having kids is the only way to really feel love."
7. Empathy vs. sympathy -- your pity only leaves me feeling even more alone.
"I feel for sorry for you."
8. Easy solution -- there are a millions way to make a family, none of them easy
"Have you tried _____? $15,000 isn't that much money, just do IVF."
9. You'll change your mind -- we each have our own path
"But how do you know you won't want kids later in life?"
10. Point the finger and blame
"Who's fault is it? There must have been something wrong with it."
11. Family planning
"You must want a girl," or, "Aren't you glad you didn't have a girl?!" (We have three boys and our little girl is in heaven).
"When are you having another?"
"Be thankful for the one healthy child you have."
"You don't want them too far apart!" (We've had three miscarriages after our first.)
"You should really try for a girl next time." (We have two boys; we have lost three female babies.)
"Shouldn't you just be happy with the two you have?"
"You don't want to be too old."
"Was she an accident?" (She is five years younger than her brothers).
Are we all just being too sensitive?
But as someone who has struggled to do the very thing that many of us believe we were put on earth to do, be a parent, these questions and statements cut like a knife.
They hurt, invalidate the painful journey we have been on and minimize the paths before us; therefore, they leave us feeling very alone.
Even though I sincerely believe they come from love (and curiosity), I also know they come from ignorance and comparison.
So for now, think before you speak and watch your tone; you honestly have no idea what the person on the other side of your words has gone through; the pain they have suffered, the losses they have endured and the struggles of their daily lives.
Don't make your words added pain.
Ever Upward available now here or Amazon and bookstores in April!