Thursday, July 4, 2019

Tolerance and Empathy

Sometimes someone creates a situation I don't like and I dance around the edges of that situation to see if i can remove my own discomfort. Sometimes, what I don't like about it is the someone else's discomfort. I can tolerate it, but I don't want to, so I do something about it and sometimes what I do is more interfering than helping in the eyes of the person whose discomfort is bothering me. A solution I'm considering in this post is to accept the other person's discomfort as an opportunity for them to exercise their coping strategies.

There are positive and negative aspects of this acceptance strategy. Why not focus on the positive aspects? That's an easy one for me. Ignoring the negative consequences of anything allows those consequences to build into something that can't be ignored, something so big that it imposes itself into your life in a disruptive and painful way. Focusing on the positive is useful, but let's at least be aware of and prepared for the negative first. 

The big negative for me is that if I accept the discomfort of someone I love as an opportunity for them, then I stay out of it, aloof and disconnected. It's a form of disintegration of our relationship. That makes me uncomfortable too. While it's therefore an opportunity for me to exercise my coping strategies, it's also an opportunity to find some way to help instead of being disconnected. Sometimes I take that opportunity. I will take it more often now. 

It goes back to dancing around the edges to find a helpful way in. My attraction to problem solving is often the source of being an interference instead of a help. There is an art here, and I'd like to describe some of its important aspects. Let's imagine a person rehabilitating from a leg injury.

I have very little experience with physical therapy, but you may have some. If you do have that kind of experience, please let me know if my intuition that being helpful to someone who has made themselves uncomfortable is similar to being helpful to someone who has to train their body to do something that used to be natural.

A helpful view to keep in mind is that pain is the body's way of speaking. Some pain says "you're healing," or "you're learning," while other pain says "you're damaging yourself." Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Asking a person who expresses their pain whether or not they are interested in changing their thinking or their behavior can be very informative. On some level, they may be creating their own suffering in order to learn something, and the best we can do is be with them and recognize that they are in pain.

The discovery I'm making here in this post is that I don't have to be aloof and disconnected just because I accept my loved one's suffering as an opportunity for her to develop her coping strategies. I can do that and still stay connected. I can develop my own powers of empathy and be there by her side as she deals with what she has chosen to deal with.

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