When you can sense someone’s pain, don’t “Let It Be”

If you’ve ever looked at the history behind The Beetles song “Let It Be”, you’ll know that it’s based upon a dream Paul McCartney had of his mother, who was providing advice to him about the band splitting. A time of pain. The first verse is probably the one that many of us can recite fairly easily…

When I find myself in time of trouble…Let it be.

And now you’re probably humming the tune too! It’s a great reminder that all of us at some point in our lives will be presented with challenges and difficulty. Often unwanted. It doesn’t matter how happy or satisfied you are – the unexpected happens.

I was reminded of this song as I watched an interview of Simon Thomas (Sky Sports Presenter) beautifully and sensitively presented on This Morning by Holly and Phillip. You can watch here, tissues to the ready – http://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/exclusive-simon-thomas-on-the-agony-of-losing-his-wife-to-cancer

I’ve been watching Simon’s story through social media for a number of weeks now. His bravery, courage, strength, vulnerability and rawness is testament to who he is. It’s a real privilege for those of us watching and reading what Simon is sharing. Many of us wouldn’t. It’s real life.

There’s a stark reality here too. When we’re around others that are dealing with pain, in whatever form it takes, we as a witness can find it hard. Simon talked about neighbours and fellow parents suddenly not able to connect with him and how hard that can be. During my career I’ve supported numerous individuals and the one line that rings in my ears is “people don’t know what to say, so they say nothing, ignore me, treat me differently”.

There’s so many reasons for saying nothing, ignoring the person, treating them differently driven by what’s going on for you as the witness in that moment. However, in that moment the person experiencing the pain deserves more.

I’ve supported others through life events, and experienced my own, that have been traumatic, painful and difficult. The key thing I’ve learnt is the difference between empathy and sympathy – empathy creates connection, sympathy creates disconnection. Sympathy is about saying – “oh yeah, I see you over there but I’m safe here”. Empathy says “I’m stood right next to you and will be here with you”. Empathy is the choice.

Here’s some thoughts to reflect on:

  • Don’t try to make it seem better than it really is by creating a comparison. The “At least blah blah blah response”. When I’m in pain, I’m in pain. Doesn’t matter if something else is going on in the world that is causing others pain and in your opinion is worse than what I’m experiencing. That disconnects me from you. I’m still in pain and you’re trying to marginalise it. What I really want is for you to acknowledge you see me in pain.
  • The perspective the person has is true for them – we can’t always relate to what’s going on for others, but just accept it’s real for them. We all experience things differently and that’s okay. Put yourself in their shoes. Listen and be present.
  • Often, we feel the urge to want to “fix” or “solve” the situation. My experience is that when faced with struggle, I don’t want to be “fixed”. If you give me a “fix” then you’re suggesting I’m broken and I don’t like that inference. So don’t fix me. Offer suggestions and ideas if appropriate.
  • If you’re not sure if it’s appropriate to offer ideas and suggestion – Ask the other person what they need and if you can help. They may not know – so be thoughtful and mindful. I recently had a friend diagnosed with Cancer and I offered my ears to listen, researched the symptoms of Chemo and found some small gifts that would hopefully enable the symptoms to be more manageable and offered to have her son for play dates. Little things, but they can mean a lot to the person you’re offering them too.
  • Lastly – take care of yourself. It’s not unusual for emotions and feelings of your own to surface when supporting others. To support others in the best way possible, we need to take care of ourselves, As a coach, I have my own coach for this purpose. I have a network of close friends who I lean into when I need to. I also have my own tool kit – the tool I use regularly is music. A good loud sing and dance in the kitchen or a 5-minute thump on the piano are restorative.

Back to the Beetles – the “Let it Be” message feels quite poignant. Don’t let the person be – create connection and be empathetic. But let what they are going through be. It’s there for a reason.

What did someone bravely do that touched your life during struggle? Please share in the comments.