At the start of the week, my plan for this letter was to discuss Oprah’s interview with Meghan and Harry. Sharing how that conversation highlighted the importance of mental health and how we should be respectful of people’s mental health struggles. I would have written that message and tied it up in a neat little bow with let’s all go out into the world and give ourselves and each other more empathy!
But then, mid-week, I had a Zoom meeting with an HR department about how they want to talk more about mental health in their organization. I brought up the Meghan and Harry interview and how it illustrated the embracing of mental health. And one of the women said, “Yes, I am ashamed to admit it when I heard Meghan; my first response was, ugh, come on, suck it up.” And then I heard myself reply, “Yes, I have to admit, that was my reaction too.” The woman looked at me, stunned.
Immediately my Monger started screaming at me—what are you doing?!? You can’t admit that! You are a therapist—you are supposed to be empathetic all the time. But then something amazing happened, the woman smiled, and it was as if the whole room took a giant exhale. Everyone relaxed and we had an honest, genuine conversation about mental health and empathy, how it is counter to how we have been raised, and how we can start changing that pattern.
So here is the truth, as I watched the interview, I was physically uncomfortable. It was hard for me to watch. My first response was to belittle Meghan, roll my eyes and think, come on, Meghan, suck it up, quit being so whiny. Was it REALLY that bad? My first response was to shame her. To belittle her for not being strong enough.
My second reaction was to say to myself, “Whoa, what is up, Ms. Judgerson. Why are you so judgy? She is sharing her real and raw story. Why are you being so mean?”
And then I realized a couple of things. I was saying all those things about Meghan because:
Yes, my first reaction to Meghan was mean, but that isn’t the end of the story. What is important is what happened next, by noticing my dismissive reaction I was able to create empathy for myself and Meghan.
Maybe you can relate?
So here is my message tied up in a neat little bow.
Yes, we need to have more empathy for ourselves and those around us. Empathy is key to quieting our High Functioning Anxiety.
Empathy is freaking hard.
Therefore being honest about resistance to empathy is important.
When we practice self-loyalty when we notice our defense mechanisms rather than beating ourselves up, we can lean in.
We can notice the familial and cultural programming around soldiering on and sucking it up.
We can recognize how hard it is to listen without fixing. How much we want to keep things clean and at a distance rather than acknowledging all those messy uncontrollable, irrational feelings.
Most importantly, we can start to question those messages and give ourselves a little nudge to be a little more empathetic.