In my post last week, I suggested that you use Bill Clinton’s campaign phrase “I feel your pain” for yourself, by saying it to yourself in the mirror. People have asked me questions about that post, so I want to elaborate on what I wrote. But first I’m going to share a couple of things about what’s been going on for me, one of them frightening and the other fun.
I live in Goleta, California, which is only a few miles from Santa Barbara. As you may know from watching the news recently, we’ve just had another bad fire – our fourth in less than two years. I was out of town the night that, as the firefighters put it, all hell broke loose. And I’ve been very fortunate because people in the area where I live did not have to evacuate, although we were told to be prepared to do so. I have a lot of empathy for those who did have to evacuate, and my prayers go to the 80 families who lost their homes.
In spite of being relatively safe myself, I found that I was much more stressed than I would have expected. After getting off the phone with someone who faced the real possibility of losing her home, I started missing exits while driving. It took me a while to connect my difficulty driving with that phone call. But now that I have, I think that many of us are very likely more stressed than we realize by our fears about what may happen to us. When our performance is less than we think it should be, stress or fear from an unidentified source may very well be the reason why.
On a much more positive note, last Sunday I took a very enjoyable trip to San Luis Obispo, which is about 120 miles north of here. I took it because I’m training to be a National Park Service volunteer guide on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. From the train we saw a deer, several dolphins, and dozens of pelicans flying in formation close to the train. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Getting back to my post about saying to yourself “I feel your pain,” one woman said she had tried talking to herself in the mirror, but it didn’t work no matter how long she spent doing it. I’m pretty sure I know why. Although she told herself, “I feel your pain,” I don’t think she really let her pain in and felt it. Doing that is the most important part of the exercise.
Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say that a good friend was just diagnosed with cancer. The first step in supporting and being there for them would be to put yourself in their place and imagine, as well as you could, what it would feel like to have the same thing happen to you. We normally do this automatically. If we didn’t, the empathy and compassion we felt for our friend would be very shallow.
In the same way, what I’m suggesting is to put yourself in your own place and imagine, as well as you can, what it would be like to have your illness. I know this sounds paradoxical and strange, because you really do have that illness. But if you’re like most people, even though you do have it, you often don’t let yourself fully feel what having it is like.
When you do let yourself fully feel what it’s like to have your illness–and the reason I keep making this suggestion and ones like it–is because once you do, you will naturally and without thinking about it be kinder and gentler to yourself. And that’s what I want for you.