“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” (Harper Lee) – as seen recently on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
I’m not sure I agree with how Harper Lee phrased this quote. I might have said it this way – “You can never really understand a person; but, you can consider things from his point of view.” I’ve made a couple of posts recently about what I called the “frame of reference” through which someone with autism or depression might view life.
The posts referred to in my posts were based upon articles written by people two who view their own lives through those frames of reference. They both wrote “What does it feel like..” posts to blogs. My point in both was that it is very difficult, and perhaps even a little disingenuous, to say things like “I know how you feel” or even “I can imagine how you must feel” to someone suffering through bad days with either of those conditions. They may mutter something like, “thanks for being understanding”, while all the while thinking, “No, you don’t understand at all.”
Rather than end up making some lame, condescending effort to understand that person, perhaps you could spend some time considering what is driving them to act and react in the ways that they are. You could try to look at the events that they are reacting to from the point of view of being in pain, or torment; of being frightened and confused; of feeling alone and helpless; of seeing no way out of your situation and having no hope. How do you think you would feel and act, if all of those emotions and feelings came crashing down on you at the same time? Then up walks Mr. or Ms. Dogooder and puts their arm around you and says, “I know how you feel”.
So what do you think you would do? Perhaps you see yourself drawing away or lashing out. Maybe you think that you would panic and run. It could be that you would fall into their arms and sob uncontrollably or maybe push them away and loudly proclaim that you don’t need their help or their pity. If you can imagine any of those responses for yourself; why are you so surprised when they might happen to you when you were “just trying to help”?
The support that you might imagine yourself needing does not come from pity or from some false sense of “understanding” how you feel. Rather it comes from them accepting you as you are and offering to help in any way they can. It comes from admitting that, “I have no idea how you feel; but, I’m here to help you find and get to a better place, if that is what you want.” Sometimes the best thing that you can do is just to be there, to listen and to support, not to judge or feel that you must intervene. Sometimes what people need is just a friend to talk to and not a savior (they already have one of those).
One of the hardest things to do is to stop judging people who need your support. What they do is not right or wrong it is just different; and that difference itself is just a value judgement that you make based upon what you think you might have done. Making those right or wrong judgments is in no way helpful and actually gets in the way of you providing the support that is really needed.
Another hard thing is to stick with it. Providing the support needed that people with any number of conditions that make them a little different is not a short term thing. These are not usually things that they can just “snap out of” or “get better”; rather they are conditions with which they will live for their entire lives. So, you cannot expect to fly into their lives, work some magic to make it all better and fly out. Long term understanding and support are what is needed.
Perhaps the point of view that you need to adopt is one of an accepting and understanding friend who is ready to be there when needed and to back off when necessary; ready to lend a shoulder to cry on, without pity; and ready to listen when they talk without judging. Be the person that you imagine that you would need if you were experiencing life as they are living it. Don’t worry about understanding them; you won’t ever; so, don’t judge, just be there for them.
Have a great and non-judgmental rest of your week.