I recently had a conversation with someone that left me thinking deeply about my interactions with that person and my own beliefs. On one of my social media accounts, I had posted something that honestly spoke about a trait that I have that, until recently, I had believed to be a flaw. I realized, in the last few weeks, that this trait is actually not a flaw at all but a true gift that I am uniquely aligned to give to people.
That trait is the experience of sitting with people who are in the middle of deep emotional responses to triggers in their lives. For the longest time, my whole life, really, I believed that when people are having emotional reactions that they needed to be stopped. They needed to do whatever it took to get themselves out of feeling any other emotion other than pure joy. I even took some training that specialized in how to help people be able to make these transitions from anger, fear, shame, guilt and sorrow and choose more neutral emotions (or ‘states’) and eventually choose a joyful state over these other emotional states. In my proclamation about this trait that I have, I stated that I prefer to sit with them in their emotions and express love to them than to do whatever it takes to help them change their emotions to something that is more comfortable for me (and, for them).
The conversation that ensued in the comments is what struck me as interesting. A person, who also has a great deal of education regarding coaching others to change their states… a considerable amount more education than me, responded and said “being at cause is what’s important. They can’t feel your love anyway, only their own.” I think I may have responded without fully thinking about her post, although after having thought about it, I would still submit that my response is accurate for me. Either way, my response was affirming of the other person’s beliefs and confirming of mine; asserting the possibilities for our two beliefs to exist at the same time. This allowed for the conversation to flow for other participants but effectively stopped the conversation from diverging into a debate about whose beliefs were more right.
But, I believe that I am a fairly introspective person and when faced with these types of conversations, I like to take some time to reflect on what happened, what I did and if there’s a way I could have performed better.
So, I thought about it. Sometimes, the best way to really dig out an answer about something is to take that concept to an extreme. So I tried to come up with an extreme example that would help me fully determine what my values truly were and what I felt was more important: helping the person see their responsibility and their choice in their emotion, or sitting with them, with love, as they figure things out or as they just sit and feel emotions. The scenario I came up with is this:
If you were alone with this person and you were the only two people left in the world, and that person was dying, and that person was extremely emotional over how you came to be the only two people left and over their impending death, what would be the most important course of action? On their dying breath, what would be more important? Helping them take responsibility for their emotions and for the situation that they were in and possibly allowing them a moment of release and relief as they go out (as more often than not it is more relieving to see and understand your responsibility and participation in an event than it is to deny your responsibility) or sitting with them, experiencing your humanity and experiencing empathy with them as they go through whatever it is that they’re going through.
The answer wasn’t very clear from that scenario. And that’s when I realized that it is not my responsibility to make that determination for the individual. It is only my responsibility to make the determination of whether I want to participate with them or not on their final journey. In fact, I believe that the right course of action, if I elect to stay with them, is to ask them what they would prefer. And then to follow-through with their preference. I believe you should always gain permission from someone before you offer them advise or insights on how they could be doing things differently. If the person is not capable of providing an answer, then what would I do?
I would sit there with them. And I would cry with them. And I would reflect on what was happening and what was going on and I would feel sad. And I would feel joy. And I would probably feel the entire bandwidth of emotions. These moments would be important for both parties involved as it would more than likely help them feel safer in their situation and I would have gained the experience of being present in the moment and not trying to change a situation. I would certainly not attempt to take their final experiences from them, for it is their journey to go on and not mine.
Obviously, 99.99999999% of the opportunities I have to work with people who are experiencing strong emotions that might feel uncomfortable to me are not these situations where people are in their last moments, so the question I had for myself is this: What would make their last moment any different than their present moment? What does make it different? Can I ever be sure that this present moment isn’t the last?
The reality is that if people are coming to me and they are emotional about something, they are generally going to give me hints as to whether they are just looking for someone to listen or whether they are asking for help solving their problem. If I choose to engage with them and I believe they are solution-driven, it is my responsibility to get clarification on that first. Although I tend to be the person people come to just when they want to be heard and want validation that it is quite perfectly okay to have emotional responses, no matter what the situation is; most people are not seeking advise from me. So my default response will always be to sit with them and feel with them. Maybe that feeling is just pure discomfort from their emotional response. Or maybe I’ll be able to actively empathize with them while they figure everything out. Or maybe they’ll never figure it out and our only connection will be that moment when I sat and loved them, and they sat and felt safe to have their feelings.
One thing that I do know is that, if at all possible, I do not want my last moment with someone to be one of trying to change them because I have deemed that it is either better for them to see their responsibility or because I feel uncomfortable with them. Rather I want that last moment to be filled with nothing but love and safety. And that is a choice that I am able to make and carry out on my own, without requiring their permission.