When You Can't Change Others
It really hurts to see someone you love suffering. It's especially painful if you think you know how they could get out of that suffering, but they don't respond to your advice. Where does that leave you?
There comes a time when you finally understand that no amount of coaching, prodding, demanding, or advising is going to pull someone out of suffering. You realize that they have to find their own way.
The biggest gift you can give to someone who is suffering is acceptance of them and your faith in them – that is, your ability to keep seeing their beauty and wholeness even when they don't.
When you are not pushing someone to change, they don't have to defend themselves. That leaves a space for them to take a look at themselves. You can act as mirror reflecting back to them things as they are as well as their own wholeness.
Have you ever known someone who was in a relationship that you thought was no good for them?
I am guessing you may have said some things like:
"You have got to leave him/her!"
"You deserve better!"
"That's terrible! How could s/he say that?!"
"Look, I know this counselor, please go see her."
"Have you heard of NVC? Here let me loan you the book."
When your friend is telling you about their struggles, the first thing s/he wants is empathy. If you were offering empathy, first, you would spend more time listening silently. Second, you might say some things like this:
"That sounds like it really hurts?"
"Are you feeling hopeless about getting the understanding you would like?"
"Is it scary for you sometimes?"
"Sounds exhausting walking on eggshells in hopes you won't upset him/her?"
"I'm guessing it's tearing you up, wanting to keep the family together and at the same time feeling tired and frustrated not getting the caring and love you long for?"
Guesses like these come with lots of space in between them so your friend has time to take it in and really connect with what is alive.
The point of your guesses is not to guess "right". The point is to bring the focus to the feelings and needs that are alive for your friend. Even if they ask directly for your advice, the first answer to someone's pain is to offer empathy. Without connection to feelings and needs, advice is just another piece of floating information in an already overwhelmed person.
You can't change others, but you can create a space of acceptance and empathy, which makes it easier for them to see themselves and make changes in their own time and in their own way.
Is there someone in your life that you would like to change? Take some time and identify your own feelings and needs as you see them suffer. Get empathy for yourself around how you are affected. Make time to grieve and accept things as they are. It helps me move into acceptance by taking refuge in my faith that release from suffering is inevitable and I can't know the twists and turns each person's path takes. When you have some relief from trying to change this person, ask yourself what feelings and needs might be alive for them and practice meeting their suffering with empathy.
This week notice your impulse when you see someone suffering. Practice just holding a silent loving presence for three breaths.