how to support the suffering, without hurting oneself?


How do I listen while a loved one sobs out her suffering, without taking on the pain myself? What’s the key? How do I keep perspective and equilibrium, but not become cold or indifferent?

Is this even a goal I should seek? Isn’t the world changed for the better by the passionate, not the dispassionate? If no-one takes on the pain of the abused and disenfranchised, how can things improve for them?

There are degrees of pain. “First world” versus “third world”, for example. But to the sufferer, it’s all pain.

First responders, therapists, charity workers, families of the maimed, these people (and many others) navigate the path of witnessing up close, even embracing, others’ pain without either “fingers in ears, lalalala can’t hear you” or going under themselves. I applaud them, and want to sit at their feet to learn how it’s done.

I don’t know the answers, but I’m getting practice anyway. I want to be happy. I choose to be happy. But I also want to be there for my unhappy friends, to be an ear, to be a rock, to help without hurting myself.

If you know what I’m talking about, tell me how you do it. Please.

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  1. joanne

     /  May 4, 2013

    for me, going more deeply INTO suffering leads to greater understanding of suffering, and greater understanding of suffering leads into greater compassion for suffering (my own and others). Your friend’s suffering is not yours and yours is not hers. It doesn’t make you love her less because you don’t take her suffering personally, it helps you love her more. The greatest gift you can give her is to live your happy life (without guilt) so that you can be more present for her in her suffering.. She doesn’t want or need you to take on her suffering. It’s hard enough that she’s going through it.

    (There are meditation practices like Tonglen that help you breathe in the suffering and breathe out compassion, healing and harmony that can help you feel more like a flow is happening through you, rather than having the suffering get congealed inside of you.)

    I really liked something I read recently that instructed us to visualize a suffering person in the center of a circle. Each person in that person’s life is located on a ring around the outside of the circle, (the closest people to her are on inside rings and more distant acquaintances are on outer rings). The arrows point in the inward direction of the circle, which means that a person on any ring gives only support and love inward. If, in supporting the person in the center of the circle you in turn need support yourself, you can turn to someone on an outer ring,( but not to someone on an inner ring.) . So, as you support your suffering friend, you have support on outer rings you can turn to, like you are doing on your blog today… you’re turning to your outer rings. :)

  2. My personal experience is that helping others with their suffering actually helps me, not hurts me. Of course I worry for them, and suffer along side them by proxy, but there is a part of me that grows in strength – if that makes any sense? I think its part of being connected – part of being in their circle of trust – and the passing on of hope. If you can travel with someone through the valley, then they also reach the summit with you. Standing there, hand in hand, knowing that you helped them climb – you get to share in the joy of coming out the other side. It strengthens your bonds, your relationships, and your own soul in the process.
    For the most part – people aren’t waiting on your words of wisdom. They just want to know someone is THERE, that someone is listening. Sometimes for them, just being able to talk, and to air their own thoughts, is all the therapy they need. Its not about being a good talker and advice giver – its about being a good LISTENER, and an especially good hugger. xx


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