Whether we are having a great experience, or a really painful one, our first instinct is to usually go talk to someone about it. We form our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us through our relational experiences. We are meant to be in relationship with others. Unfortunately, for many of us, including myself, there was a time, or many times, when our honesty and vulnerability was met with painful judgment.
Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario involving a girl named Theresa. Her story is an example of how judgment can make the grieving experience more painful, and in turn, harm the griever. Some of you may relate to this, others may not, and either way is ok!
Theresa had a hard decision to make. On the one hand, she really loved her boyfriend Sean. She connected with him deeply. He had experienced many hardships and struggles growing up, and she felt immense compassion and understanding for him as a result. She herself had experienced similar heartbreak and loss. However, Sean couldn’t seem to take responsibility for his actions. He was drinking too much, skipping out on his work shifts, and being irresponsible with his money. There were even a few times Sean was unable to pay his part of the bills, because he had spent all his money drinking at bars.
Theresa worked full-time and was barely able to make ends meet as it was. She could no longer afford to cover Sean’s part of the bills, and no matter how many times she talked to him about how his irresponsibility was hurting her, and how she loved him and wanted to help him make good decisions, his behavior wouldn’t change. If anything, he just ended up drinking more.
One day, Theresa decided that she could no longer continue being Sean’s girlfriend. She was being treated unfairly and felt taken advantage of. While she had great compassion and understanding for Sean, she realized that it was not good for either of them to continue enabling his bad behavior by covering his part of the bills. When she told Sean that she was leaving him, he lashed out at her in anger and rage. He told her that she didn’t really love him, and tried to make her feel guilty about leaving him to deal with his life and pain alone.
As you might imagine, Theresa was devastated. She felt relief and pride that she had stood up for herself and done the right thing by both of them, but she also felt immense fear, humiliation, and sadness. Theresa really loved Sean, and knew that underneath all his pain, there was a loving, generous, strong, funny, smart man. She was worried for his well-being, and a bit humiliated that she had allowed herself to be treated poorly for so long. Her friends weren’t entirely helpful either. For a while now, they had told her that she needed to “dump that loser”. They didn’t seem to understand or respect how much Theresa loved him and was feeling conflicted.
After the breakup, Theresa went to her friends to talk about how she was feeling. She was met with comments like, “I can’t believe you stayed with that loser for so long”, “I don’t feel bad for you, you did this to yourself”, and “Don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea.” As you can imagine, Theresa felt like she had been kicked when she was down. She felt like her friends didn’t really care about her. They didn’t really listen to what she was saying, and instead, they passed judgment on her with comments that made her feel even worse about herself and her situation.
From that point forward, Theresa stopped talking to her friends when she was struggling and in pain. She didn’t want to open herself up to be judged again by people she thought she could trust and be comforted by. Out of self-protection, Theresa learned that it wasn’t safe for her to talk honestly and vulnerably about her pain and struggles. Her relationship with her friends became strained after her breakup, and she was left feeling more alone and down than ever.
Theresa’s friends certainly did not give Theresa what she needed to heal from her loss. While they may have meant well, the comments they made to Theresa while she was grieving her breakup were not helpful. Instead, they left Theresa feeling unheard and more humiliated about herself.
How many of you can relate to how Theresa felt? Have you ever tried to share honestly about how you were feeling only to be met with unhelpful comments that left you feeling judged and alone?
The Grief Recovery Handbook® teaches us that grief is the most powerful of all the emotions, because it is a mass of conflicting feelings happening all at once resulting from a significant emotional loss. Just experiencing grief alone can be overwhelming, so experiencing judgment from loved ones on top of the grief can be incredibly devastating.
In my Uprooting Grief classes, where I teach The Grief Recovery Method®, all of my participants and I make four commitments to each other at the beginning of each class. These commitments are:
- Total honesty
- Individuality and Uniqueness
- Absolute Confidentiality
- NO judging, minimizing, comparing, or fixing
Those of us who have been trained as Certified Grief Recovery Specialists® by The Grief Recovery Institute®, myself included, understand and honor the fragility of grievers’ hearts. We do not take lightly the fact that we are trusted to help hurting people walk through some of the most painful and sensitive experiences of their lives. We want you to be free from the pain, isolation, and loneliness that came from your significant emotional loss(es), and that is why we commit to fiercely protecting you, and ourselves, by agreeing to honor the four commitments listed above.
It takes a great deal of courage to vulnerably open up to another person and share our deepest hurts. Every single person grieves differently, and for a hurting griever to achieve emotional completeness and healing, they must be able to trust that their truth will be kept confidential and free from judgment, minimizing, comparison, or fixing; and, as relational beings, it is crucial that our truths be received and heard by someone who will respect our need for confidentiality and affirm us for the unique grievers we are. In fact, it is necessary that we be listened to with dignity and respect.
I don’t know about you, but I want to heal from the pain of my losses. I want to be able to share freely and honestly, knowing that what I share will not be broadcast to the world through gossip, and that I will not be judged, compared, minimized, or fixed by the person with whom I share the most sensitive parts of my heart. Isn’t this what we all want and need?
If you have a friend, family member, or anyone else come to you looking to talk about their pain and loss, PLEASE DO NOT judge them. Try to picture a heart with ears, and listen to them with the dignity and respect they deserve without analysis or comment.
Some of the most helpful comments to make to someone who is hurting are:
“I can’t imagine what this is like for you.” – Because you can’t! You are NOT them.
“I don’t know what to say.” – Often times, it is better to say nothing at all than to say something that may judge, minimize, compare, analyze, or be perceived as “fixing”.
Some of the most UNHELPFUL comments to make to someone who is hurting are:
“I know how you feel.” – No, you most certainly do not. You are NOT them!
“Just get over it.” – Telling someone how to deal with their emotions is not only insensitive, but completely invalidating. How would you feel if someone said this to you while you were hurting? How would you feel if they told you what to do? This comment in particular has an undertone of judgment to it. It sends a message to the griever that their emotions are wrong and invalid.
I hope that this blog has opened your eyes to how judgment can be incredibly harmful to a grieving person. If you have experienced judgment yourself, I encourage you to speak some kind words to yourself, and to allow yourself to experience your feelings, because they are normal and natural. Do not judge yourself for your feelings, because that is very harmful too. The last person you need judging you for being a normal and natural person is yourself! It only adds to your pain, and you don’t deserve that. You are beautiful and wonderful exactly as you are, a unique individual full of value and possibility.
Finally, if you are hurting, and need someone to talk to about your loss and grief, please reach out to a safe person and talk to them. If you don’t feel like you have any safe people in your life, please feel free to reach out to me, and I promise to honor your truth and listen with dignity and respect. Together, we can help each other heal from our grief. Together, we can sow seeds of honesty, respect, and love.
I love you all! I hope you have a wonderful day FREE of any painful and harmful judgment! ❤ ❤ ❤