by Grant Porteous, LMSW
Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes to just get what you need? I mean, what would it be like to be understood and responded to the way you wanted or needed in those important and difficult moments of your life by the most important people in your life?
I had a client come in and tell me that at our last meeting they would have just appreciated a little sympathy (or, said another way, “a little understanding”). They shared that through the tears they were weeping in this our most recent session.
In my notes from the previous meeting all I could see was that I encouraged them to try to keep setting a much needed boundary with a really unhealthy family member. It looked like there was venting, sarcastic humor, and a lot of frustration about the situation and the fact that things seemed so resistant to change, but no overwhelmed and deeply sorrowful weeping in sight – like there was in the current meeting.
I apologized and thanked them for bringing that to my attention, and concluded by observing that I had missed it – I just didn’t see what they needed in what they were showing me. That’s when my client said, “Well, I just have to be the strong one all the time.”
Later it occurred to me: I’m sure I do that sometimes. How about you? Maybe you act like “I just have to be the strong one” and try to protect yourself by looking capable at times when you really need help or support? And, like my client, maybe you don’t realize what you’re doing (though I bet at those times you are acutely aware of not getting what you want or need).
If you can relate, try this: don’t disconnect from what you want or need in the moment by being the strong one. Instead, give yourself permission to be a little more real, and then see what happens. Pick your spots, of course, but risk being honest with the ones you love and the people you know you can trust. Tell them what you think you need. Ask for what you want. And maybe just let them know from time to time, in so many words, “a little sympathy, please.”