“Letting the key players in our lives see that we are scared or lonely or not sure we’re worth loving is almost unbearable. Yet unless we allow others to know our truth, fears and limitations included, there can be no trust and genuine intimacy.” ~Rhonda Britten
I had the experience over the weekend of sharing with a friend some very deep pain that I was going through. I generally don’t share the kind of raw emotion that I shared that night, but I was feeling rather desperately the need for some support, and it was entirely too raw for me to hide it as much as I normally would. To my surprise, instead of driving my friend away or causing her to react as if I was too needy or emotional, it increased the closeness of the relationship. While I know this friend well enough to know that she would react with compassion, the positive impact it had on an already close friendship was more benefit than I had ever dreamed of.
As an empath, I know how draining other people’s emotions can be, particularly when those emotions are intensive, negative, or unpleasant in some way. This knowledge, combined with a natural tendency toward privacy, makes it a challenge sometimes for me to share my emotions with others when I am struggling. Despite the fact that I know I could really use someone’s support, I tend to pull back from sharing because I hate to burden others with my difficult emotions.
And yet, I also know that being present for others when they are struggling is one of my most rewarding experiences. So if I am truly honest, when I refuse to share my deepest emotions, I am denying those that care about me the opportunity to experience a similar reward. So this tells me that despite my conscious reasoning of not wanting to burden others, there must be something deeper at play in my reticence to share.
I think that deeper reason for not sharing is that I most often don’t feel deserving enough. Although I receive great reward from the opportunity to be present to someone else who is suffering, I don’t actually believe that I am worthy enough that someone else would find it similarly rewarding to be present with me. Therefore, I think that they would encounter the draining side of the negative emotions and none of the reward. I suspect there are multiple interconnecting reasons I feel this way.
Some of it is obviously my own lack of self-worth, but I think I’ve also developed much of this feeling from the reactions of others over the years. While I have often been known among my friends as the person to go to when someone needs a listening ear, these same people were often not well equipped or prepared to listen to me when I needed it. Some of that probably developed from expectations—they were used to our roles running in one direction and were not prepared to have that paradigm switched on them. Some of that was probably also because my own self-worth issues may have caused me to make poor choices about those with whom I shared.
Whatever the reason, when I do try to share, I find the most common responses I usually get are accusations of being too emotional, accusations of blame for having created the situation that is causing me pain by my own poor choices, attempts to convince me that I don’t really feel the way I am feeling, or attempts to “solve” the problem for me in some way. In every case, I find these responses to be not only unhelpful, but they also generally cause me to shut down my feelings and refuse to even feel them completely myself because of the judgment I perceive from others who are trying to “help.”
When my friend simply listened and held space for me the other night, it gave me the freedom to fully engage in the emotions without feeling the need to suppress any of it to make her comfortable or to minimize the additional pain incurred from encountering judgment. In being able to express it, I was better able to move through it and move on from it, instead of still carrying unexpressed pain around with me after the fact. This was incredibly healing! To also find that she felt a strengthening of the bond of our friendship from my willingness to be vulnerable was an additional gift of healing. I am so grateful and fortunate to have a friend like that in my life, and she may yet help me learn that even I am worthy to share my deepest struggles and am safe to do so. What a gift!