Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feeling Your Pain

In high school my skin was always . . . less clear than my friends'. It was the main thing I was unhappy with about myself, I think. (not that I was unhappy, but it would have been the first thing I changed if I could). But we were all teenagers, and none of us had perfect skin.

I remember occasionally standing in front of bathroom mirrors at a dance or at school with my friends and one of them complaining about their one zit. I would immediately point to myself and say, "Hello! You should be grateful!"

Starting around that time I began learning something. Just because my skin was worse than theirs doesn't mean that it wasn't a big deal for them to have a zit. They could be as unhappy about their one as I was about my twelve.

Because women compare themselves to each other so much, even those of us who feel we don't (I'm talking to you, self), complaining about or mentioning something like weight, pregnancy, physical appearance, almost anything, can turn into something of a competition, or at least can get people feeling defensive or offended. I hate that.

I'm sure there are some women that make jabs at a "friend" who is 30 pounds heavier than them by saying, "Oh! I'm just so fat! I really have to get rid of these disgusting 10 pounds!" But I doubt it happens a lot. Mostly, I think we worry more about ourselves and aren't thinking so much about those around us.

When a friend of mine who, to me seems quite thin talks about needing to lose weight, I only feel empathy. I know exactly how it feels to really want to lose weight. Just because I want to lose (insert number) pounds and she couldn't lose more than (insert much smaller number) without looking anorexic doesn't matter (I'm exaggerating, of course, but it sometimes feels like this). She has the same feelings I do. And that is okay.

I have felt a little sick after complaining about my child's behavior during church when I realized that the person I was talking to struggled much more with her children. I would not want her to think I was suggesting that even my mild mannered child was bad, so I must think her children were terrible.

I appreciate when this happens and instead of getting offended and holding it against me the person says something along the lines of "Oh, then you must think MY kids are little hellions!" or something like that. Of course I feel awful realizing what I sounded like, but then I can apologize and we can be fine. Hopefully. Everyone sticks their foot in their mouth sometimes, but we should give each other the benefit of the doubt. And even if someone does seem to be unkind on purpose, that's no reason to get offended or hold a grudge (see earlier post on taking offense).

But mostly I think we have to recognize that everyone has trials on their own level. Shoot, I can't remember who posted about someone telling them that they only had two children so she could not empathize with what she (a mother of four) was going through. Really? Back when you had two you never felt stressed or overwhelmed? It doesn't matter whose is worse, we have all felt it to some extent. Let's commiserate with one another!

Okay, this really doesn't sound how I mean it to. I'm not saying everyone should complain and we should all just try to make each other feel better. I'm also not saying that it's perfectly fine for people to complain about something the person they are complaining to struggles with more than them. But I am actually saying both of those things a little bit.

Mostly I just think we need to have all of our sensitivities be on the side of the things we say about ourselves in order to be careful not to hurt others, and not be so sensitive to what other people say about themselves and letting those things hurt us or think ill of the person saying them. We're all in this together. Really. We should respond with a heartfelt and sympathetic, "I know!" and leave off the "better than you do!"


Kazzy said...

Trials and insecurities are custom-made by nobody but ourselves. It's just kind of the way we decide what we want. It is our minds and souls thinking out loud.

I think you have a very youthful, cute look. I bet the girls at the school dances wanted to be you!

Barbaloot said...

That's a great thing to remember. Now matter how frustrated I can be---doesn't mean other people don't have their own trials. Thanks for the reminder.

Thora said...

This is a good post to remind me of this topic (how's that for vague sounding? But I really meant it). I don't usually get offended by others, since I assume they aren't making pointed remarks, but I am the one who is often placing her foot in her mouth saying things that people could potentially mistake for me either saying oblique statements about them (which I don't mean to be doing), or whatnot. Good to remember that in these situations I should just explicitly say I'm not trying to say things, and even better than this to not complain so much in life in general.

Ok, so that was all kind of convoluted, but it made sense in my head.

charrette said...

I learned this lesson the hard way, when one of my mission companions said I looked so ridiculous offering her a way-to-cheerful "good morning!" when she was still in bed, and sort of threatened to kill me if I said, "I feel so fat today" one more time.

It hadn't occurred to me that I was being hurtful or rubbing anything in her face until that very moment. But at the time I was less than 110 pounds, and she was sort of shaped like a Cabbage Patch doll. I totally tried to rein it in after that, and be more sensitive to the ways my cheerfulness and my complaints could affect others.

Carolyn V. said...

I have put my foot in my mouth so many times. Plus I've had friends do the same. It's hard for me not to compare myself to others, but I need to remember that we are all in this together. =) Great post.

Kimberly said...

I think about this often because it is SO prevalent. I have a good friend who is the exact same amount overweight I am. We're each carrying an extra fifty pounds. But because I'm five inches taller than her I carry it a bit better. This irks her no end and when I complain about my weight issues she tells me off.

Validated feelings is something every human being craves, I think. Thanks for the reminder - well said!

Erin said...

Ooh, I LOVE this post. And I hope it does really sound how you meant it to. I can definitely think of times when I stuck my foot in my mouth ignorantly, but not intentionally trying to be mean.

Great lesson on empathy and NOT comparing ourselves to others!

L.T. Elliot said...

This is a great post, Lis. A writer I like once said that we can never really tell how deep the scar on the heart and so sometimes, we mistakenly assume the wound is shallow. I think it's just important to know that we each of us have our scars and no matter the depth, they all hurt.

Lara said...

You are so wise. I loved reading this, and it is so true. We do get so wrapped up in our own troubles that we often forget to realize that others are struggling, too.

And for heaven's sake! It isn't a contest! That's what I hate.

I was in labor for 24 hours. Oh yeah? Well I was in labor for 4 days! That kind of stuff. But, I suppose we're too sensitive (easily offended, when we should be more sensitive (to others' feelings).

Melanie J said...

You are an incredibly level-headed person.

Heather said...

Uh huh. I think you made perfect sense. I think about this a lot too.

It's really bothered me when moms roll their eyes at each other if you have less children than them and you say you're tired or whatever. Just because it's less, doesn't mean it's hard. As mothers, I think we really need to encourage and "lift each other up," no matter the number, we're all always a bit flustered and exhausted.

Great post, lady.

Andrea said...

My sentiments exactly! We all go through hard times in life and even if we haven't experienced the EXACT trial as someone else, we still know what it feels like to be sad, frustrated, irritated, angry, or tired, regardless of the cause. I'm convinced that's one of the points of trials: so that we can empathize with and help each other.

By the way, I did experience that same acne torture and I'm so sorry for you! So not fun.

Annette Lyon said...

YES!!! This is largely what I was trying to say in my "Personal Wagons" post.

So true.

Heather said...

So well thought out and well put. This is a post I'll come back and read again and again.

Loralee and the gang... said...

Yeah I lived this a little bit, both the doer and the "target". At least, I felt like the target. But I felt much worse when I made a thoughtless comment around someone who's feelings it had to have hurt. And I really care about that person and never wanted to hurt her. But, at the time, I felt like it would have made things worse to say, oh, I'm sorry I said that, especially in front of others? Most likely.