Written by guest contributor Stephenie Craig, LCSW
Do you find it complicated balancing your emotions while emotionally supporting others? Maybe you’re struggling with infertility and a sibling just had a baby. Maybe your child is now cancer-free, and a friend’s child is walking through treatment and difficult news. Maybe you’re grieving a heartbreaking loss or ending, meanwhile a friend is celebrating a new beginning.
You want to be compassionate and caring toward those you love, and at the same time, you have your own unique emotional experience to manage. This tension may leave you wondering: Is it okay for me to feel stressed about my problems when others’ problems are so much bigger? Is it okay for me to be happy when someone else is so deeply sad? Is it okay for me to feel sad when someone else wishes I was celebrating with them?
While navigating emotions in community with others can feel very complicated, emotional connection to others is essential to your emotional health. So, how can you respect both your emotional experience and the emotional experience of others?
5 Ways to Respect Both Your Emotions and the Emotions of Others:
Remember all feelings are normal. You are human, and every human has a range of small, medium, and large feelings. Different people have different emotional responses to various circumstances. Being a compassionate person does not require you to sync your emotional responses to anyone else. You can feel happy, sad, angry, humiliated, disappointed, ashamed, exhausted, guilty, jealous, etc., and all of these are 100% normal—even if someone around you is experiencing different feelings. You are normal. They are normal. No judgment necessary!
Remember, feelings are not true or false. Feelings are biological messengers bringing you important information about your life. They aren’t designed to tell you something true or false. They are designed to draw attention to what’s happening in your environment or in your thought life. You might hear a friend’s great news about their child’s cancer journey and initially think, “I wish that was our family’s news instead of theirs.” Immediately guilt and shame follow as you judge yourself for feeling jealous. Instead of judging, remember jealousy is not telling you the “truth” that you are a terrible person because you didn’t immediately feel happy for your friends. Jealousy is drawing attention to your desire to see healing in your child’s life, which is normal. Sit with your emotion without judging and let it show you what you need to know. In time, you’ll find you can be both happy for someone else and sad for yourself at the same time.
Give pain its proper space. You may be tempted to compare your suffering with that of others, leading you to minimize your feelings. “My problems aren’t real problems because we aren’t living in poverty.” All pain hurts. There is no need to rank or compare pain. Your pain is valid, even if it doesn’t seem as catastrophic as someone else’s.
Be compassionate, not codependent. Compassion is when you care about what others are experiencing and come alongside them in their joy and pain in loving support. Compassion looks like a kind note, providing meals, contributing toward house cleaning services, listening or praying. It’s feeling sad with a friend while also feeling freedom to celebrate the joys in your life. Codependency is when you take on someone else’s emotions as if they are your own, leading you to abandon your own feelings and responsibility for yourself. Codependency looks like, “I’m not okay if you’re not okay,” feeling guilty for the good things in your life, hiding positive events in your life because you’re afraid it will make your friend feel bad, and being preoccupied with the problems and feelings of others.
Validate the emotions of yourself and others. When people are in emotional pain, they don’t want advice, a silver lining platitude, or someone to fix it. Most people want to feel seen, heard, and understood. They want to know they aren’t crazy or alone. Instead of trying to solve pain, try saying to yourself and others, “You’re normal for feeling how you feel. That’s so painful. I see how you would be feeling hurt, sad, depressed, overwhelmed…” Validate, then remember there is no quick fix to emotional pain. It comes and goes in life. It won’t last at a high intensity forever. Being present is much more helpful than adopting someone else’s emotions.
Feelings are normal and healthy. Having your own feelings that are separate and distinct from the feelings of others is normal and healthy. Be patient with yourself as you take steps to honor your emotions while also showing up emotionally for your loved ones. For Reflection:
In what relationship or situation do I find myself adopting someone else’s emotions rather than being emotionally present with them?
What are three practical ways I can show compassion in this relationship rather than codependence?
What is a simple statement I can say to remind myself I am normal when I am tempted to feel guilty for my emotions being different from someone else’s in my life?
Stephenie Craig is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 19 years of experience specializing in emotional/relational health counseling. Stephenie loves hearing others’ stories and helping people find new perspective that produces peace, healing, and connection.