The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Whenever you are going through something particularly taxing, you can be sure everyone will have an opinion. And, they have to share it. People come from all sorts of emotional and psychological places, so remember to take what they say with a pound of salt. They are not you, and can’t know what you are feeling, unless you tell them. They want to say something useful; in fact, they often think they have to say something, which is how so many unhelpful, even hurtful, things are bandied about.
Someone told a friend of mine that his marriage of 30 years was all for naught. Not exactly sensitive; especially, when the person thought the marriage had some very good parts, as well as a few lovable children. (The last thing you want to do when looking back on a long partnership is to throw out the baby with the bath water. Nothing and no one is 100% bad.) Another person’s friend hung up on her because she didn’t respond correctly to her friend’s attempt at being helpful. Countless folks will tell you how you feel. I even heard one person tell a friend she was fine only to have the friend argue vociferously that she wasn’t. You can be in deep grief and still enjoy some peaceful, good moments. Going through a major life transition doesn’t mandate feeling lower than a snake’s wiggle 24/7.
Though you are probably extremely sensitive, try cutting cut people some slack when they don’t understand, or respond in ways that push your buttons. Most of them are really trying to help. They think they get what you are going through because they may have had a hard break-up, too; but, even if they went through a similar experience, it was through their lens, not yours. No marriage is identical to any other, and you’re the only authority on you.
Another facet of people telling you what they think you’re feeling is when they tell you what you “should” feel. Don’t let anyone invalidate your truth, your experience. There’s no right way of dealing with divorce. This is probably the only time you are divorcing this particular mate, so it’s really a mystery how you will feel from one moment to the next. It’s impossible for someone else to know what you need to heal. They may have the best intentions, but to you their comment sounds like a criticism–you’re not even grieving correctly. This is a perfect opportunity to practice being true to yourself. Politely thank them for their insight, and immediately dismiss it from your mind. Again, you’re the expert on you.
When you feel attacked or misunderstood, it’s very hard to remember that the other person, in most cases, is trying to be kind; but I would suggest assuming the best…unless it’s followed up by more of the same. Sometimes, a friend may be threatened by your situation. We therapists have a term called projection. It refers to someone foisting their own agenda, values, preferences, and issues on you and calling them yours. There’s nothing like a life-changing event to threaten other people and their choices. Projection is not done consciously, nor is it done with hostility. It’s a defense mechanism, and protects one’s ego. So, it has nothing to do with you; except that you’re the recipient and it doesn’t feel good. Again, if this happens infrequently, try to let it go.
Having navigated these shark-infested waters, you may find yourself giving unsolicited advice. Step back and listen. What your friend really needs, more than anything else, is an opportunity to vent.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang