Monday, May 27, 2013

Lack of Empathy: A Confession (With, Of Course, an Adoption Tie-In)

My way or the highway.

That's how I've lived my life for as long as I can remember.

To my defense, I am type-A, determined leader.  I can get a job done.  I can meet a deadline, reach a goal, and make a dream come true.

To my detriment, in achieving, I tend to lack empathy.

Much of this, I know, stems from my diabetes.   Long story short:   I was really sick for 1.5 years, was diagnosed with type I in an ER, and immediately put on my big girl panties and started dealing with my disease.  Sink or swim, do or die.  I picked "swim" and "do." 

And that's how I feel that everyone should deal with his/her health.   If you know that you should exercise and eat right and take time to de-stress, why aren't you doing it?    A bad day here or there, fine.  We all have them.  But to wallow in pity and complain to me (which hmmm, might actually be simple sharing of struggles and not true complaining....)....well, I don't have it in me to say "awwww" and pat your back and offer you a Kleenex.

I know, right?  Harsh.  Unfeeling.  Cold.    Inconsiderate.

To me, it's simple.  If you know what to do and you don't do it, you don't deserve my time and energy.   I can't help you.  I can't fix you.

Ah, there's an issue. 

I want to fix people.   Well, I want to help them fix themselves.   So I freely offer advice, give you a list of book titles or blogs or professionals, and I do so unapologetically and confidently.   

And I expect you to listen, accept, and move forward.    Thank you very much.

The problem is this...

One, that means I'm putting myself above another person.     Um, stupid.   Stupid, Rachel.

Two, that means I'm not so good at listening to the hearts of others.   Sucks. 

Because I'm a mother of three kids who came to me through adoption.  And slowly, we are inching toward phases/ages/stages in which my children will ask some really interesting, really tough, really heartfelt/heartbreaking adoption-related questions.  Or express feelings.

And I'm really, really scared that I'm going to suck at responding.

However, I have found that if I just listen quietly, nod encouragingly, and take a deep breath, the "right" answer comes to me.

Like when Miss E asked me a few months ago if Baby Z was crying because he missed his birth mother.


So I stopped.  Took a breath.  And I said, "He probably does miss her."   And then, "Do you miss your birth mom?"

She says yes and then brings up another topic.  We continue with our bedtime routine.

That was it.

I think I did ok.   Surprisingly.  Thank God.  

I truly don't know how to become a more empathetic person.    My philosophy and life is put your mind to something and do it.     No ifs, ands, ors, or buts.


Sometimes I wonder if I need to take a listening class.  Or read Listening for Dummies.  (Is there such a book?  Hmmmm....must research).    Maybe I need to offer zero advice and enter conversations with no expectations.   

But as I type this, I think, yeah, right.   Like that's ever going to happen.

I'm driven.    I'm knowledgeable.  I'm a leader.  Those are great things...

But sometimes a kid needs JUST a mommy, not an educator or guide.  Sometimes a friend needs just a friend, not a Heloise of all things adoption.  Sometimes a husband just needs a wife, not a Sargent.

So, without an ending piece of wisdom, without a tidbit of advice, without an ounce of dishonesty about my true "condition"...I leave you with this.

I need a lot of grace.   I have a lot of work to do.     

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post - but from this really old adoptee how you answered, and responded, was right - I agree with your statement below:

    "I think I did ok. Surprisingly. Thank God."

    You did just fine - because you can't fix that - but you can walk along side - and not telling them how to feel, or how to fix the feelings, is actually doing what needs doing...having someone listen and be there. Because being there means they are worthwhile just as they are and sometimes self-esteem for the adoptee is hard but knowing you are worthwhile and worth it makes a diference.

    Just wanted to say that...even though you don't know me...


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