Empathy - the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.
Compassion - sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.
Thank goodness for those who surround us with compassion! It's so helpful to know that there are those who care about us who are not empathetic; they don't personally know our pain, but care about us deeply. That's compassion.
Support - to hold in position so as to keep from falling, sinking, or slipping.
Ah, perhaps the key is to interact with others who are able to provide empathy and/or compassion combined with support.
Traveling the journey of grief into healing is not something easily done alone. When someone offers us empathy, it makes a huge difference. Having the experience of someone looking us in the eye and saying, "Yes, I get it. I truly know what you are going through," offers comfort as it relieves a bit of pressure. The sufferer understands that they are not alone; others have felt this pain as well. Validating the thoughts and feelings, allowing the sufferer to be witnessed, to be heard.
When it turns out that the person cares about our feelings, we experience the healing of compassion. Our pain matters. Someone cares enough to reach out and let us know that they are here for us.
Support. Hearing that others have been through similar pain is not enough. Knowing that others care about our pain is not enough. Empathy and compassion must be combined with support. The open arms offering warm hugs. The card that reminds us that we are not forgotten. The written, spoken or silently communicated message that "I care" means so much that there is no way to express it adequately.
Not everyone will offer empathy. Thank goodness, not everyone has suffered the same pain. Not everyone is wired to offer compassion. Some simply are not able to broaden their heart and mind to want to alleviate pain. However, nearly everyone is willing and able to offer support.
Perhaps we would benefit from learning how to ask for the support that we want and need. No doubt, it is a very difficult thing for some to ask, while asking comes as easily as breathing for others. When we are in pain, if we already have difficulty asking for support, it becomes even more cumbersome, perhaps overwhelming. At that time, when it is most needed, those people may well not have the support they truly need.
Each and every one of us has experienced pain in our lives. If we are able to remember how it feels to feel alone, even abandoned, it may well prompt us to be sure that no one else ever feels alone. On the other hand, if we have experienced strong, loving support, I hope that experience encourages us to share the support with those that we care about.
Everyone deserves empathy, compassion, and support. They change the way we feel when we are in pain, reminding us that we are not alone. Likewise, these feelings change our experience when we are able to reach out to someone who is hurting.
Well worth considering.
Sandy Walden is a holistic life coach, business coach, Reiki master and teacher, and moderator on the Alliance of Hope Forum for Suicide Survivors. She lost her son, Mike, to suicide in December 2010.