Comfort in, dump out

"Step back and listen."

It's a common phrase I hear among those asking for help. They talk about how frustrating it is when those in power tend to make things about themselves (e.g., the person in power would say, "It's really hard for me to know what to do." or "You should hear what happened to me.").

I was thinking about that, and why someone like myself would say the thing about it being hard or want to compare. Honestly, it is difficult for me to know what to do (which I've written about before).

Why is this so familiar? Why do people have such a hard time stepping back and not making it about themselves? Well, I think it's just human nature. We want to share our experiences, and in doing so forget whose voice we're talking over.

Unfortunately, it's only natural.

Okay, I'm not excusing that behavior. Not a single bit. We have to listen; we have to give room for voices of those desperate to be heard.

How do we do that though? How do we push down that evolutionary need?

We don't.

Instead of trying to act like our personal needs don't matter, we need to shift who we're telling those needs to. Ignoring our thoughts doesn't work, but directing it at the right audience does.

I've found personal counseling to be extremely helpful in this manner. Instead of having all my troubles loaded onto the shoulders of my friends and family, I have my therapist available to bear that burden.

After all, that's what they're trained for and that's why I'm paying them... So I can be an egotistical whiney mopey messy human being; the goal being that I contain that self-centeredness to the sessions, freeing me up to be emotionally available for my community and a more empathetic human being.

I brought this up with my wife and she mentioned that it reminded her of "Circles of Grief/Ring Theory". The idea is that, in a time of grief, you have those most affected in the middle of the circle, and those least affected on the outer rings.

We need to ensure that only comfort and empathy moves inward, towards those most affected. And in reverse, emotions are dumped outward onto those more able to bear them. "Comfort in, dump out."

Quoting the article I linked, ask yourself:

Where I am in the circle? Given that position, what should I say, or what can I hope would be said to me? Who are people in the circle I could comfort? Who can I "dump" to?

I really like this model. It recognizes the needs and unique experiences of all of us. I don't think you should ignore your own needs & worries just because you're not the most affected, but I also think those who are most affected desperately need us to be there for them, and to not make it about ourselves. We've got to get this right.

I'm definitely going to work on keeping this circle model in mind throughout my life, so I'm always emotionally ready to be there when needed, helping in whatever little ways I can.

Header photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash