How to Listen to Those in Pain

This is from Thabiti Anyabwile’s guest blogger Joanni. You can find the whole post here

This series has to do with making unhelpful comparisons between Slavery and Abortion. Joanni goes on to post a few guest posts specifically on empathizing with the pain of those who have had abortions. Though the subject matter is directed at a particular type of pain and suffering, I find her section on comparison invaluable to anyone who wants to be a good friend or listener to those in pain. 

1. Comparisons make me feel like it is somehow my fault that I hurt deeply. Possibly we have said, “You’ll get over this. Other people have gone through way harder things and they overcame.  Their issues seem worse than yours, and yet you are still hurting about this?”  And I heard, “YOU need to suck it up, YOU are being a baby about your pain and others are stronger than you.”
And my heart hurt worse.
2. Comparisons make me think you aren’t really listening to my heart cry, and maybe don’t understand the specific nature of my pain.  Sometimes we have even interrupted before others are finished stuttering to try explaining the nature of their hurt, and then we said, “You’ll get through this.  There are pains far worse, and I know so n’ so who went through a tragedy, and she kept a smile on her face the entire time.  Nobody even prayed with her once, or gave her any encouragement.”  I then thought about how I didn’t even get to finish my outcry, and maybe I should just stay silent and be strong alone.
And my heart suffered alone.
3. Comparisons make me further look at how helpless and hopeless I really am to move forward… and offers me no solution.   “This story reminds me so much of what all so n’ so walked through.  You may be going through a divorce, but she had a separation from her estranged daughter for a year and it hurt her badly.  So, this is what she did, and you need to do the same thing too!”  And we hear, “Your own hurt that you are walking through is not really unique, and you should just hurry and get it figured out by doing what everyone else before you has done.”  When others don’t understand my specific pain, and then compare with generalizations my heart wonders if my own hurt has a solution.  A solution, even just a tiny step past the pain I’m experiencing today, has to be unique for my situation.  Comparison lumps everything together in my mind, and I feel more overwhelmed.
And I wonder if I can face tomorrow. 

Do you resonate with listening this way? Do you resonate with being on the receiving end of this kind of comparison? 


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