While I was out walking one morning, I was listening to one of Brene Brown’s Unlocking Uspodcasts. She mentioned parts that resonated with me related to worry, disappointment and shame. Worry is an unhelpful coping strategy that we experience when there is uncertainty. This rings true especially during this time. So many worries going on because of the unknown. Everyone is wondering what is going to happen. Will this pandemic ever go away? That is the constant worry. Well, here’s the thing. We’ve been given procedures to follow. We’ve been told to wash our hands, keep a safe distance and wear a mask. This has come from the top researchers and doctors; so why not listen to them? If you’re still skeptical, then do your own research; you have that power. In fact, you have the power to do whatever you want. You can follow procedures, or you can believe that it’s just a whole conspiracy it’s up to you. However, realize that there are those who do feel scared for themselves and their loved ones.
Then, of course, there are those who refuse to follow rules because other people aren’t doing it. Hey look, there’s a bridge! Others can say that they do everything they can, but it’s the ones around them who don’t. What power do I have there? Well, you have the power to stay away; you have the power to tell them that you don’t feel comfortable around them. You can say, “when I see you coming up to me without a mask, it makes me feel anxious”. There is nothing wrong with saying that, and guess what? They are not the experts on this.
Another part that Brene was discussing was about disappointment and sympathy. When we are disappointed, we have various feelings: sadness, anger, maybe embarrassment. And we want others to hear about it. This is called sympathy seeking. Sympathy is hard because when you hear something that’s hard, you want to show your empathy, but then you hear them saying, “you don’t get it, you don’t understand”. I have often heard that myself, not necessarily in words, but also in tone, and they are probably right. It can be hard sympathizing with someone when you don’t experience the same as them. I loved the example, Brene gave from a fellow clinician: “I hear what you’re saying that no one can understand. What I’m experiencing is a group of people who want to understand, a group of people who want to be in it, so would you be willing to help us be in it with you?” A great way to have that individual share those feelings of sadness, anger and embarrassment.
Sympathy seeking is connected to shame. We feel alone. But it’s our actions that can help us get out of that loneliness. So, the question is, what is the action tendency? What is it that we can do to not feel alone and not feel shame? I feel the first step is try and let people in. Help them understand what you went through, so that they can empathize. From there, you have just brought someone in, now what? Well, it’s time to notice your thoughts and feelings. Just for that split moment, what was going through your mind? What were you feeling? Is this something you can hold on to? When you do, what have you noticed about yourself physically? Not saying you are going to feel better overnight. It’s not like you learned how to play the piano overnight. It takes time and practice to letting people in.