by Dan R Moen, adopted from the Philippines to the USA. This is the 2nd of a 3 part artwork piece by Dan that explores being adopted.
One of the key things that has been an eye-opener for me is understanding what’s appropriate to say to somebody who’s grieving or going through pain.
We have failed to understand each other and to utilize tools to cultivate real empathy — not sympathy. Unfortunately, because of this, difficult conversations can cause alienating, victimizing, or gaslighting the individual. We oftentimes want to give advice or external perspectives, but oftentimes it’s unwarranted when the person is going through pain in the moment. This is in large part because we have been taught that giving advice equates to helping. Humans have a natural instinct to want to fix; the idea that anything that doesn’t fit the standard needs to be repaired and repaired quickly.
All it does is alienate the person and make them question if they have a right to feel human emotions. Without consciously doing it, this can easily come off as egotistical and one can project their own ways of dealing with life expecting the person grieving to meet that same standard — even with the best intentions at heart.
The key to really helping somebody going through grieving or troubles is to really listen and validate, validate, validate. This being said, that does not necessarily mean agreeing with the person, but it is humanizing the person and allowing them to have a place to cry, feel, and go through the emotions necessary for growth.
Be mindful of what you say to individuals when they look overwhelmed, dealing with anxiety, or going through a loss. I must remind myself this all the time. I slip up too. What you say to them can deeply impact them either positively, or unfortunately, negatively. Do not make it about yourself, and above all else…. DON’T tell them how to feel. Sometimes, remaining silent, but being an active listener, helps the other person tremendously, and phrases such as “thank you for sharing. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help” will help them and give them a sense that they can go to you for support.
These are reasons why we as adoptees have, on a much larger scale, so many mental health problems going on that unfortunately get undiagnosed, untreated, and invalidated. When we see crimes happening there is something more deeper going on that we don’t see. Crimes in society from stealing to murder, are symptoms of deeper and more complex needs by humanity.
Keep in mind more scars are invisible than they are visible, this means you do not know what the person is going through. There could be much more from their history and lived experience that you may never experience. What we are witnessing when someone is grieving may be rooted in something much deeper and more historical in their own lived experience. So why would we compare our lives to each other? Life is not a race to the bottom, nor a race to the top. We must be able to be like glassware. Wine glasses hold what they can hold, shot glasses hold what they can hold, and punch bowls can hold what they can hold. One cannot pour the same amount of liquid from a punch bowl in to a shot glass; it will overflow. However, people are not static, they can handle the amount of stress that a shot glass can hold, and slowly move up to a punchbowl, and then back down again.
I recently had a conversation with a wonderful friend of mine who is Indigenous, about the Native American community and how they view about giving advice:
Elders do not give advice or perspective in every situation they get an opportunity. Instead, they understand that a young person will have a different lived experience than an elder and in order to get advice, one must give each other bundles of tobacco. Tobacco is sacred in many Native Americans traditions and cultures as it is a medicine used for prayers, communication, and messages to the Spirit World. Elders will give tobacco bundles to the youth if they need advice and young people will give tobacco to elders if they need advice. This is seen as an offering gift. I absolutely admire that, and I wish people would practice this concept way more: even in therapy there are codes of conduct about giving unwarranted advice. When the phrase, “What do you think? What would you do? Do you have advice?” Is uttered, that’s the invitation. If you ask, “May I offer perspective, advice?” and they don’t want it. Don’t give it. Let the grieving person BE HUMAN.
For Dan’s 1st artwork in this series, see Grieving for the Child of the Past.
For more on Dan visit his website.