When you think you’re helping but you’re not

I used to write from a place I thought was vulnerable but in truth I wasn’t. It wasn’t until I was through the storm, had seen the silver lining, learnt my lesson and could now make sense of it all, that I would share my experiences.

And my closest friends knew that. They were even brave enough to call me out in it. 

It wasn’t until recently that I began writing from a truly vulnerable place and let me tell you it isn’t easy. It’s felt more akin to laying on an operating table, unzipping my skin and exposing every nerve ending to the elements.

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It takes me hours, sometimes the day, to come back from writing something difficult and yet, I want to. I’ve come to crave it.

Writing in the thick of struggle – when the waters feel deep and murky – helps me process and recognize whats going on inside me and then acknowledge it. It helps me own where I’m at, give voice to the wounded soldier in me and move on, rather than stuff my emotions down and will myself to keep going- saving me unrest, anxiety and stress internally. 

I move quicker to a place of acceptance and then ultimately, joy because It’s healing and freeing to simply be with myself – to sit in whatever it is I’m experiencing without running away, judging and blaming anyone, even myself. 

I’ve learnt that’s called empathy. 

But I used to confuse empathy with sympathy. 

Empathy drives connection. It bolsters feelings of acceptance and being heard. Without saying anything, empathy tells the recipient “It’s ok and they’re ok.”

Sympathy, on the flip side, drives disconnection. It leaves people feeling unheard, rejected, and many times, experiencing shame, like theres something wrong with them or what they’re feeling. It isolates and without saying it, sympathy tells the recipient they are “less than”.

And the two – empathy vs sympathy- can many times hinge on a few small words.

The other day I posted something on social media. It was difficult for me to admit, but I knew there were others out there who felt the same way I did and I wanted to open it up for conversation. One response instantly got my back up.

I knew my pride was hurt and initially I told myself to smarten up. But then I sat in it and asked myself why. Why did what she said bother me so much and it wasn’t so much what she said, but how she said it. It was the words she chose. 

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It included the words “everybody (we all)“, said multiple times over and followed up with her advice for dealing with and getting over it. 

I felt completely shut down, like I was a pion/weird/stupid for feeling insecure in this area and all together below and less than her.

And while my guess is that she’s learnt from personal experience and can all together relate, I did not feel connected to her one bit. I felt pushed aside or worse, mocked; like I was a dumb child and some adult had just patted me on the head and said “there, there.”

In reality, I know what she said came from the right place but what I discovered is that the words she chose, rather than making me feel validated, not alone and normal, made me feel small and stupid; like my feelings and struggles (ultimately, me) were not worthy of being said or felt.

Two words could have changed that: me too.

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Rather than sitting with me and relating – by saying “me too” – I felt like she was standing in a different circle overhearing my conversation and scolding me in front of others; like she was too good or too wise to even entertain my heart. 

Honestly, this isn’t about her at all, because I too have used these exact words when trying to console or encourage people! I’ve caught myself trying to relate but failing, as I choose words that isolate rather than connect. But if I look closer, I’ve I’m painfully honest with myself, I can see this usually happens when deep down, I’m trying to protect myself.

Perhaps I all too much relate and hate that I do; I’m not ready to admit it out loud and by lumping myself in that category, I’ll be found out. Or maybe it’s because I can’t relate and I really don’t want to. In getting too close and trying to relate, I’ll have to admit I’m susceptible to experiencing whatever it is that person is experiencing. And that may be painful. 

When I keep people at bay (consciously or subconsciously) – when I offer sympathy rather than empathy it tends to be where I myself have or am experiencing shame, guilt or fear.

I pray that next time I’ll be more self aware and will be granted the courage to respond in love; to respond with empathy.

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Lord, we confess that on many occasions we have missed opportunities to be there for people- to offer a loving word when it’s needed most. Forgive us. Help us connect with one another; to offer empathy rather than sympathy, even when it’s difficult. Help us to recognize when we’re isolating people rather than welcoming them in and show us what, if anything, is keeping us from meaningful interactions. Your word tell us that there is power in our words; life or death in them. Guard our mouths and help us speak words that will lift up and encourage rather than strip down. Thank you that you are at work in us, refining us into our best selves and will carry it through to completion. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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When you hate how you’re feeling but you don’t know how to get rid of it

I define SHAME as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. – Brene Brown

Shame is universal and whether we recognize it or not, we all experience it on a day to day basic.

Things, people, experiences and even our own thoughts can trigger shame and until we learn to recognize them and practice resilience – the ability to move through the shame in a healthy manner and learn from it– we will perpetually live in a cycle of shame and self condemnation.

According to Brene Brown (“I thought it was just me, but it isn’t”) , we experience shame in the following categories:

  1. Appearance and Body Image

  2. Money and Work

  3. Motherhood

  4. Family

  5. Parenting

  6. Mental and Physical Health including Addiction

  7. Sex

  8. Aging

  9. Religion

  10. Speaking Out

  11. Surviving Trauma

  12. Stereotyped and Labelled

I’m not sure about you, but I can check off nearly every box! In each category, there are identities and characteristics I want to be seen as. And most certainly, there are unwanted ones also.

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I want to be seen as a naturally beautiful woman, who is self confident but not arrogant. A woman who works for passion and to make a difference, with a desire to use that money for good – to bless others. I want to be known as a mother who is joy-filled, grateful, wise and undistracted. A person who values family and leaves a legacy of deep, connected relationships. I want to be strong, resilient and a victorious overcomer. I want to be desired by my husband, free and playful in our marriage bed and be known as a voice for healthy relationships and sexuality. I want to be seen as a passionate and committed Christian; courageous in following Jesus. I want to known as brave and fearless; authentic even when it’s difficult. To be seen as self- aware, relatable and pointing others to hope and healing for the hurting. I want to be a contagious spirit – a breath of fresh air for many.

But even on my best days, my unwanted identities can paralyze me. They push me into a cycle of negative self talk, followed shortly by beating myself into submission.

I want to feel good about my body so I force another workout, or resist the food I know I need. I want to seem nice and forgiving, be liked and accepted; so I keep quite or withhold how I’m truly feeling. I want to be happy, so I pretend like everything’s fine. I want to feel capable and accomplished, so I continue to push until it’s done. I want to be normal and move past this, so I ignore my pain and trauma down below. I want to be everything and more – perfect – so I give everything to everyone else with nothing left for me or my family.

 

 

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And while some of my wanted identities are achievable and nobel, parts of it are not. There are parts of my perception that is skewed and my expectations based on lies; truth’s that I’ve learnt from behaviours and beliefs I’ve adopted from others or media.

We need to evaluate where these message come from? Where these expectations and beliefs systems started? Are they good. Are they yours? Are they wanted and realistic? What’s the cost and will it matter in the end?

The truth is we can’t avoid shame, we can only move through it and it starts by taking the time to recognize and acknowledge how we’re feeling, rather than running, ignoring or pushing through. We need to let the fears have a voice, if only for a moment, then assure them and hug them with our truth.

So what is the truth- your truth? What will people miss out on – heck, what will you miss out on– if reduced to those unwanted identities?

Speak it! Dare to say it out loud and back to yourself…

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If people reduce me to those labels I’m running from, they’ll miss out on the woman I once was and the woman I’m becoming. They’ll miss out on my story and that I’ve learn through hard and painful personal experience. That I fight passionately where there are few voices, in arenas that are uncomfortable and countercultural. They’ll miss how much I’ve grown and what I I’ve discovered through the process of becoming a mother. They’ll miss my transformation from a broken, to a healed woman. They’ll miss my commitment and my courage-  bravery in trusting God for miracles. They’ll miss out on Jesus and his Freedom; on deep connection and friendship that is rare.

Because while I’m not perfect and I’ll always be a work in progress, I too am these beautiful things and this is my story.

 

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Lord, I thank you that you make beauty from ashes; that you redeem the ugliest of messes. Thank you that you came to heal the broken hearted and to set the captives free. I pray that you would help us, help me, to speak truth in the face of lies – to shine light when it feels dark – to run to you in my hurt, rather than away from you or it. Help me to recognize shame when it’s heaped upon me and be brave enough to move through it. Give me everything I need to be and to own who you made me to be.

 

 

My graduation… from Counselling

I could hardly keep from smiling as I read the post – the words I had typed in bravery over two years prior – confessing my inability to handle death, pain and grief. And I’m sure God was chuckling along with me. Not making fun of me, but in a playful “I told you so” sort of way.

Because I’ve never shied away from praying scary prayers; the bold ones that take courage to even muster out loud and leave you shaking in your boots hoping God chooses NOT to answer them! And I had done just that. As I carried my child in womb, I begged God to heal me from my greatest fear: death, pain and grief.

They kept me from loving well:

……running away when people needed me to run to them

…. Distant when others needed me close

…..Going when someone needed me to stay, to sit and to listen

 

But the reality is, we can only give away what we have first been given ourselves.

And in this case, I couldn’t love well in the midst of hardship, having never dealt with my own pain from my brothers death.

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It was a pain I hadn’t touched in twenty one years, preferring to gloss over and pretend like everything was fine.

So that’s exactly what I would do with others.

Avoid the subject all together. Never ask specifics. Pretend like everything was fine.

And while it wasn’t a true reflection of my heart, it communicated disinterest, ill concern, a “could care less” attitude and a cold lack of compassion.

 

It wasn’t until I gave birth to my daughter, that the trauma came full circle and the band-aid was ripped off, leaving my wounds wide open for cleaning.

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God used a traumatic child birth experience and 9 weeks of darkness to show me I needed to heal, once and for all.

“Burying the hurt, wounds, and scars of your heart and soul does not make them go away. You cannot eat them away, drink them away, ignore them or hide them in your work or relationships. Eventually, they re-emerge (often with habits that are harder to heal than the wounds themselves).” – Jo Saxton 

 

Oh, was this my reality!

While I’d come a long way in my healing journey, I’d relied almost entirely on my own strength; every self-help book read, philosophy learnt and self-discipline method mastered. But still I was wounded and what I’d done was merely bandaged up the hurt and learnt to cope for a while, until it re-appeared again. (Many times looking different than before, tricking me into thinking this new habit and my unresolved pain were not related.)

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With 6 months of counselling behind me and victory on my side, I now stare at the page of things I’ve overcome-  the things I had run to for countless years to mask the hurt and pain.

Like any addiction. These were mine:

 

Now here I am on the other side, a completely different woman.

(Thanks to the Grace of God, much prayer, an incredible counsellor and hours upon hours of self -reflection and the hard work of change.)

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While I could write a book about all that I’ve learnt and discovered on my road to healing, my most profound revelations are this:

  • The pain of our pasts never leaves us until we deal with it, no matter how old we get or how great we get at “coping”  (A good sign you’re coping rather than healed: the issue continues to resurface throughout your life unexpectedly)

  • We either walk inside our story and own it (the hardest, ugliest and messy parts too!) or stand outside it and hustle for our worthiness. – Brene Brown

  • It is our weaknesses not our strengths that connect us with others and it’s in our willingness to be vulnerable that others are drawn to us and a deeper bond/ relationship is formed

  • Your mess will become your message if you give yourself the gift of healing

  • God can and will use you to bring others hope and help set them on the path to freedom, victory and healing… (and that has brought forth the most AMAZING sense of purpose and meaning I’ve encounter in life yet.)

  • The dark looses its scary factor when you embrace it, even when it’s uncomfortable.

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Because once you can sit in your dark cave and not run from it, you can sit with others in theirs and be ok with it…..

You can love them well in their broken and messy moments, when they need most to know they’re not alone.

 

Note:  I do not believe we ever “arrive” or that healing and freedom means we will never have to work or consciously choose to fight the temptation to fall back into old patterns. Instead, that those things that used to hold us hostage and control our thoughts and actions, no longer have the same paralyzing grip on our life.

 

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Please don’t go through this alone! If you have never shared your hurt with someone, please start there by confiding in someone you trust. If you have no one, please email me at hello@kaileymichelle.com.

And secondly, I would strongly suggest you reach out to a counsellor and invest in yourself there, even if only for one session. I invested in 6 months of weekly  counselling with FREE TO BE COUNSELLING, and it was the catalyst and accountability I needed.