The look on my teenager’s face was one of complete distraught. She was angry and hurt and confused and fearful of what I would do next. I was fearful too.
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I knew the decision I had to make and it was not the one she wanted. I was going to have to dig down and let go of my fear of her feeling the pain to make the decision that was best for her…in my opinion. This parenting gig can be so damn hard.
And I did. I made the call I knew she’d resent me for and she looked at me like there was no one on the planet that could hurt her more than I just did. She composed herself respectfully until we got into the car and she let me have it.
Anger and tears and “how could you?!” spit out of her on repeat. Seething disgust that I had taken control away from her and made decisions for her.
I am raising her to be independent and make her own decisions, so for the life of her, she couldn’t grasp why I would take it away.
I know that feeling. The one where you can’t accept that someone has some level of control over your life. I don’t do well with it either. I knew it was going to hurt and it did. Both of us…deeply.
But I also knew that underneath my fear (of exactly that moment) it was going to get better. I just wanted it better now.
The part of me that doesn’t want to see another in pain wanted so badly to make it go away.
To find the quick fix and dissolve it. But I wasn’t given an answer or an idea that would do that. So we were stuck with sitting with the discomfort and feeling the pain.
After a few hours of separation and her ability to fiercely hold on to her anger and hurt, I felt stuck again when I saw her. The next decision was the hardest.
I wanted to distract her from her sorrow. I wanted to take the pressure off myself.
I wanted her to stop being angry at me… but I KNEW that’s not what my job was. It was to be near her, to respect her pain, and to respect mine in the process. It was to give us both space to feel the discomfort and let it be what it is. Uncomfortable.
So I sat with her while she cried and told me how wrong I was. And then I held her…because I knew she was ready.
Not a moment before. And she let me. That’s when I knew it was going to be okay….because it always is.
As a professional counselor, I know the hardest part of my job is when the best thing I can do with another person is to sit with them through their pain. To let them wade through the muck and feel the choking sensations of sorrow and offer my hand so they don’t feel alone walking through it.
It is, by far, the most emotionally draining part. It rubs up against the part of me that does not like to feel helpless, despite knowing that giving them room to feel and know they are not alone is helping.
To be their guide in darkness until they see their own light.
I find this much easier when it’s a client I’m working with where the relationships have established boundaries.
When it comes to people I have a close connection with, it’s much harder.
It’s uncomfortable to feel other people’s pain as it is, but throw in being emotionally attached to the outcome. It’s hard. And yet, the practice is the same.
Sit with the discomfort and know, sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.
We live in a quick fix, pill popping, make the pain go away fast kind of society.
Why? Because we are uncomfortable with feeling the challenging emotions. And when we are uncomfortable with our own, we certainly are not going to be comfortable with being around someone else’s.
We have this desire to avoid and distract and it turns out, that doesn’t actually make the underlying concerns go away.
They will continue to return until they are responded to in a way that pleases them. And usually what pleases them is what makes us curse and complain and question why the same issues keep popping up. Super annoying.
So how can we practice this? How can we get comfortable being in the space with those who are uncomfortable and hurting?
By allowing ourselves to feel without attempting to make it go away as quickly as possible.
And that starts with us.
Get comfortable with you.
When you feel an emotion that is unsettling, lean into it. If its anger, let yourself heat up and get tight and feel the sensations that come with it.
Allow them to be what they are. Listen to the voices that come with them.
Who are you really mad at? Who do you feel has your power? And how can you take it back? Sit with it a little longer, then release it through screaming in a pillow or in a place you are by yourself or do some physical activity to let it out.
Even jumping jacks or shaking out your body in the moment.
If its sadness, let it rise to the top. If there are tears, let them roll out.
If you feel like you are being swallowed up, breathe through that sensation. Let it be what it is.
The more you let it come up and be felt, the sooner it will resolve itself.
If it’s guilt, ask it questions. What have you learned from it and how will you change your responses and behavior based on what you now know? When you practice forgiving yourself, you take away the power of the past and bring it to the present.
And the present is the only place we can actually create change. Why not allow yourself to be there?
As you practice becoming comfortable with your own emotions, it will become easier to sit with others through theirs.
Disappointment is a part of life and you don’t want to get rid of your experiences because they make you into the beautiful and unique person you are.
Allowing yourself to feel can shorten the discomfort of your clinging need for pain. Relief is always just around the corner.
This is how we can best support ourselves and in turn makes us reliable and effective supports for others as they sift through their own uncomfortable moments.
Being able to listen without responding and fixing is a tremendous help to those in need. And you can do it! It just takes a little practice helping yourself so you can be the very best help for others.
Be with you so you can be with them. And start making the uncomfortable a little more comfortable.