Do you know me?

9:09 AM

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of how well we really know someone. There's the obvious, the close circle of people you love - your spouse, your parents and perhaps your siblings. Then there are your good, close friends. Followed by acquaintances, colleagues, etc. Then there are the people we think we know - celebrities, people we gossip about and for those of us in the online world - bloggers. We like to think we know everything about our close loved ones, that we are the keepers of our friends' secrets and that we know the people we work with pretty well. But do we really? I would venture to say that if we would be 100% honest with ourselves we would admit to the fact that there are some things we still haven't shared with our spouses (for whatever reasons), secrets we've kept from our parents and close friends and that our acquaintances or colleagues don't know us at all.
I am by most accounts a very open person. I don't have that much to hide and I'm not that terribly private. In fact my honesty is something those close to me love and cherish about me. My husband knows me better than anyone in the whole world. And yet... there was something painful from my past that it took me years to work up the courage to share with him. As I've become an adult and my relationships with people have matured and changed I have learned things about people I thought I knew very well that turned everything I thought I knew about them on its head. But it also explained a lot. It turns out a lot of people, if not most people, carry with them such deep and painful wounds that it almost makes one bowl over with empathy and sadness. It's inevitable that by the time any of us reach adulthood we would have weathered some serious storms.
I remember years ago in one of my psych classes learning that when a severely traumatic event happens in a child's life it often stunts there emotional growth, meaning that they remain frozen at that "emotional age" for the rest of their life. Sharing something "severely traumatic" with even the people closest to you is incredibly difficult, so odds are there are details like that in the layers that make up the people we love that we don't even know about. Think those instances are rare? Think about this, in an "exhaustive government survey of rape and domestic violence" done in 2011 the surveyors discovered that "nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner."* With these kind of odds it is very probable that you know someone (or think you know someone) who is carrying around this secret from you, from their spouse, from their parents, children or other friends. It's staggering to consider. And that's just women and rape, that is not saying anything about physical abuse of children or sexual assault and men.
What this tells me is that there are a lot of hurt people out there. And as our pastor pointed out a few months ago "hurt people hurt people." When we take on individuals from this angle it's a little easier to have some empathy. To not respond with anger at the rude store clerk, to not feel resentment towards your boastful friend, to not hate your manipulative relative and to forgive a friend that has crossed the line many a times. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wisely said "Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.” I am not saying this as a way to excuse people's behaviors (or our own) but only to say that viewing people from a place of empathy and from the perspective of understanding that we probably don't know the whole story makes it easier for me. It's sort of selfish if you will.
But there is an aspect of this over which we do have control and that is the baggage and hurt that we ourselves carry around. We all have those tender wounds that we've been licking since childhood or perhaps adolescence that when someone brushes up against it it releases a torrent of negative emotions. You know, those situations where your reaction is way too intense than what the initial action would have warranted? When I look back on my early twenties I see a silhouette of a young girl who is dragging with her a gigantic duffle bag of "yuck." It followed me everywhere I went and colored most of my interactions with people. And then there was a moment where I came to a fork in the road and I realized that I could either continue dragging that sad sack of crap around with me forever or I could get rid of it. Now I'm not going to kid you and tell you that it was one of those movie moments where I just threw the "bag" from the bridge. No. Getting rid of it took years and years. These sacks of yuck are rarely full of just one thing, instead it's a treasure trove of hurts, disappointments, traumas and sadness. And to empty it out it takes a lot of effort, dedication and time. But it is well worth it, I feel like I never really knew true happiness until I released myself from all that baggage, for the first time since I was a young child I was able to have moments where I felt truly carefree - there no longer was a shadow looming over me at all times (even the happy ones).
Releasing yourself from hurt, resentment, sadness and bitterness and seeing other's from a place of empathy makes for a much easier life. I've really noticed in the past few years how little most people upset me these days, it takes a lot to make me cry and even more to make me actually angry and that feels so good to say coming from someone who went through a period where she felt angry almost every day of her life. Another quote that I try to remind myself of daily is from Ian Maclaren "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Does it work every time? I wish, but as life would have it I am not Mother Teresa and people do still test my patience from time to time. You get put on the wrong birth control, babies get fussy, you get put on hold for three million hours, spouses have extra long days at work and some days you end up running that washing machine ALL DAY (and folding clothes for an eternity). So no, I'm not always understanding, forgiving or empathetic but I do think I'm better at it than I used to be and I see myself making progress in the grand scheme of it all. And for that I am grateful and because of that I will keep trying.

*source - New York Times

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3 notes

  1. Thank you for writing this,it made my heart smile during a time when I am surrounded by so many people who are suffering and fighting their own battles. This is a reminder for me to be patient and to continue to have empathy for them ;)

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  2. I've been reading your blog for a while now but I'm not sure I've ever commented. This post was incredible! I found myself nodding my head along to each and every word. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. so important to remember that you never know where someone is coming from or what happened to them that day. this thought has saved me multiple times from turning into a person i don't want to be. such a good reminder and this was written so beautifully.

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