If you haven’t seen this video, it’s been floating around for awhile…at least several years.
And while I understand the sentiments, and I’m not trying to be a killjoy, all the intended humor aside…basically: I hate it. And here’s why.
- The video implies that the problem is simple and not at all complex; that it is easily discernible and plainly apparent to anyone interacting with the lady.
- It implies that not only can the problem be quickly and accurately identified, but that it can also be treated. It assumes that there is a solution, and it’s a very straightforward one, with all factors being within the sufferer’s choice and control.
- It assumes that the presented (or stated) problem is the problem, when the real problem is often the isolation and lack of being seen or receiving empathy when suffering.
I can’t help but draw parallels to this video and those struggling with mental health issues. So many times trauma survivors risk being vulnerable and disclosing something, just wanting to connect with someone. And the person responds like the man in the video: with lots of suggestions for ways to fix it. I’ve been reading through Healing Developmental Trauma again, and there’s actually a hierarchy to emotional needs. You will stay stuck at wherever you were first (or most?) injured until you can resolve those injuries enough to mature to the next level of need. Connection is the basest need human beings have (emotionally speaking).
For me, the buck stopped at the very bottom level. So my highest priority in any interaction (still…as an adult…) is connection. I need to feel seen, heard, and understood. This comes before solution-finding. And if I don’t have the need for connection met first, solutions frustrate the tar out of me because they weren’t the priority out of what I was seeking. There may be some minimal connection in immediate solution-seeking by the other person, but if I don’t feel heard or understood (connected with) first, I can’t force myself to be interested in – or grateful for – solutions. Connection – for me anyway – is an even baser need than pain relief. I think often people who are listening to someone in pain believe that pain relief is the highest priority, so they immediately jump into fix-it mode. I can’t speak for everyone. There may be people out there who don’t have the developmental trauma at that level and this doesn’t bother them. It could just be where I, personally, land on the hierarchy. But for the record, I haven’t spoken to a lot of people who contradict what I’m saying. I have heard from a lot of people who say that they get frustrated when people just start firing suggestions at them.
There’s an outside element to the fix-it mentality as well. It’s hard to see someone we care about (or just anyone, really) in pain. We feel out of control. Throwing solutions at people is an attempt to eliminate our own discomfort at seeing them in pain, because if we can “fix” their problem and relieve their pain, we eliminate our discomfort and feelings of powerlessness.
It makes sense. And it’s not all bad. It’s good to be motivated to help others, and it’s good to feel upset when someone is hurting. That means you have empathy, which keeps you from being a psycho- or sociopath. 😀 But although it feels extremely counterintuitive, reflecting the person’s feelings and thoughts back to them first, and entering into their pain with them, is actually more powerful than trying to address the surface stuff. When people feel seen and heard, they are often empowered to heal on their own and in their own way.
That’s all I have to say about this at the moment. I just had to get it off my chest. 😉
What about you? Do you like lots of suggestions when you’re sharing a struggle with someone? Or do you prefer that they just listen and empathize?