Author Topic: Taking too long to realize sympathy (not a solution) is wanted.  (Read 740 times)

SnappyLT

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 33
    • View Profile
Hi. Last month I wrote a post about relatives leturing me on the phone about something I have no control over. I didn't like being lectured.

When I was on the phone tonight, I wonder if I did the same thing (sort of) to a different relative. Looking back, I think she just wanted sympathy and instead I asked why she hadn't taken the step needed to solve her problem.

(I guess that's not exactly the same thing as lecturing someone about something they can't control - because she could control this if she really wanted to - but maybe it's similar because I told her something she didn't want to hear.)

One of my relatives suffered an injury long ago that can make it painful for her to walk. She has learned that by having shoes of different heights she can reduce or eliminate the pain. She has purchased special inserts for many of her business shoes that work - she uses one of the inserts and discards the other one, and thus her shoes have her legs at different heights, and her pain is relieved.

Only thing is, she has not gotten around to ordering special inserts to wear with the pair of casual shoes she always wears to walk her dog. So, walking her dog can be painful for her.

She commented to me on the phone tonight that she was in pain after walking her dog.

Looking back, I should have just told her how sorry I am that she is in pain. (Looking back, I suspect that's what she wanted to hear.)

Instead, I asked about the special inserts. (She had told me years ago about how the inserts relieve her pain at work.) Well, she hemmed and hawed and said she hadn't gotten around to ordering ones for her casual shoes.

(Looking back, I should have dropped the whole topic before this point.)

Instead, oblivious, I said, "Well, do they make inserts in the shape of your casual shoes"?

She replied they do.

I continued, "Maybe you should go ahead and order an insert for your dog walking shoes, then it wouldn't hurt so much to walk your dog."

That was the wrong thing to have said, clearly. She started telling me about how hard it is to work from home, and how I just don't understand how busy she is and how many different tasks she has to juggle... and she just doesn't have any time to order inserts for those shoes.

And I finally realized I should have shut up long before that point. She wanted sympathy for her pain, not a solution to stop her pain. I was missing the point.

So, I apologized. I said I don't know what it is like to have pain like she does, and I retired before the pandemic so I don't know what it's like to have to work from home like she does. And then I changed the subject. (Bean dip, any one?)

I guess I am not particularly looking for advice; perhaps just comments on how other have handled similar situations in the past.

PS-
To head off questions. My relative earns a reasonable salary, and as far as I know she has enough money to buy shoe inserts if she wants to buy them. I know she does order groceries online, so she knows how to use a computer to buy things. It seems to me in the time she was telling me about her pain she could have almost finished ordering herself inserts online to stop the pain...

Buit there I go again, missing that (I think) she wants the sympathy, not the solution.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter


Aleko

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1750
  • Location: South-East England
    • View Profile
Well, we all know that what we want is often not what we actually need. Clearly she has got so depressed in lockdown that she just didnít have the energy to go online and buy what she needs to walk the dog comfortably (and heaven knows most of us have been in that state at some time in our lives). She called you wanting a warm cosy dose of sympathy for her suffering, but instead encountered your sincere puzzlement that she hadnít taken the easy obvious step that would solve it. If that impels her to just sit down at her computer and put an order through, you will have done her more good than you would have done by helping her have a good comforting wallow in her misery.

Perhaps call her some time for a nice kindly chat about the difficulties of working from home and Life in General, so she doesnít come away with the impression that youíre fundamentally not sympathetic. But donít feel badly about your response.
Like Like x 1 Disagree Disagree x 1 View List

Rose Red

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1440
    • View Profile
You're a fixer. I am too. It can be difficult for people like us to figure out if the other person wants a solution or just want to vent.

It annoys me sometimes. I wish people will just come right out and say what they want. I guess all we can do is ask if they want us to take care of the problem. If they say no, just say "well, I'm here to listen."
Agree Agree x 3 View List

Jem

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 780
  • Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous!
    • View Profile
I think it depends on the relationship but I know with my husband and I we simply ask each other or tell each other what it is we are looking for in a particular situation.

For example:

Me: "The check engine light is on in my car. Are you able to take it to the shop today?"

vs.

Me: "I had an awful day at work today. I'm not looking for how you would have handled this situation, I just want to vent about it."

That way he doesn't have to guess what it is I am looking for. Or also:

Him: "My back is really hurting me."
Me: "Do you want some ideas to relieve the pain or do you want me to just be here with you?"

or

Him: "I was planning to mow the lawn today but cannot because my back hurts. Are you able to mow it for me?"
Like Like x 1 Agree Agree x 2 View List

lakey

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 375
  • Location: Midwest U.S.
    • View Profile
A lot of us do this. I have a younger sister, and often I find my self giving her unsolicited advice. She's sixty years old. She can make her own decisions. It's a bad habit for me and I try to stop myself.
Like Like x 1 Agree Agree x 1 View List

Victoria

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 309
    • View Profile
I'm a fixer as well and I always have been. When I was much younger I drove away a friend who was in a toxic relationship. She constantly called me to complain about the latest thing her boyfriend had done, and I repeatedly kept trying to tell her that she needed to break up with him and that he wasn't worth it...which was true, but she eventually decided (after a breakup and reunion) that it was me she needed to break up with, because I "wasn't supportive of [her] relationship."  By the time I was older and going through the same situation with my new best friend, I knew enough to offer sympathy, she eventually arrived at the conclusion that her boyfriend was a hot dumpster fire in her own time, and our friendship is intact.
Like Like x 3 Dumb Dumb x 1 View List

peony

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 480
    • View Profile
I have a great deal of sympathy for people who can't see their way through to a workable solution for their sufferings. I have a lot less for people who can relieve their problem with just a little bit of effort. Maybe that makes me a cold person, but really, don't go on and on about something to me if you can buy or find or do something in five minutes or less that makes that problem go away! Legit sympathy is fine with me, but fishing for artificially generated sympathy, no thank you. I don't have enough "spoons" for that. SnappyLT, I think you were fine.
Agree Agree x 3 View List

Dazi

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 794
  • Location: Southeast, USA
    • View Profile
I'm a fixer by nature. I'm also rather direct, so I just flat out ah the person if they just need to vent or do they want solutions\advise.
Like Like x 1 Agree Agree x 1 View List

Morticia

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 22
    • View Profile
I get it. When people vent at me, it makes me feel anxious, like I'm responsible in some way. This makes me feel like they are putting me on the spot to solve the problem. Intellectually, I can look back and realise that is not what they were doing, but it's difficult in the moment. I think what I'm saying, from the comfort of the internet, is that I sympathise, but I don't have an answer.
Like Like x 1 Agree Agree x 2 View List

JeanFromBNA

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 279
  • Location: Southern U.S.
    • View Profile
BTDT, got many, many T-shirts.

Sometimes, I'll ask people if they would like me to arrange for the thing to be done.

I agree with Morticia's comments about anxiety. That's my initial reaction to a complaint, too.  Followed by, "How am I gonna fix this?" I've learned over time that it's not always my problem to fix.

Chez Miriam

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2047
  • Location: Kent, UK
    • View Profile
BTDT, got many, many T-shirts.

Sometimes, I'll ask people if they would like me to arrange for the thing to be done.

I agree with Morticia's comments about anxiety. That's my initial reaction to a complaint, too.  Followed by, "How am I gonna fix this?" I've learned over time that it's not always my problem to fix.

I am a fixer, too - there's a lot of us here.  I'm getting much better at spotting the 'calls for sympathy', but I've also got a lot better at not providing endless sympathy to people who can't/won't/don't help themselves but engage in all sorts of other activities that they can find energy/time/money for.

I know it's harsh, but sometimes I will say: "I offered to help you with this problem, you said you wanted to fix it, I went to a lot of trouble to help you, and you did nothing, and now I don't want to hear about it any more.  Now, how was that bean dip you were making?".

I'm fine helping people to solve problems of their own making, but when they take up my valuable time and mental resources, let me do all the 'hard' work, and then just can't be bothered to lift one finger, I don't want to hear about how they are 'suffering'.

If someone tells me "I know I messed up, but is there any chance of sympathy anyway?", I'm totally fine with that, and never mention the whatever-it-was, just pour the (virtual) tea and get out the (virtual) biscuits, and provide lavish servings of sympathy.  I think we all need support when we know we messed up, but I'm not so good when the person denies any responsibility for what they're going through, just demands sympathy.

I'm not sure if I need to work on that?  Or whether having people who like wallowing in problems of their own making drop out of my life is a good thing?

For the record: I regard a person who has become overwhelmed as totally deserving sympathy, but I'm getting better at not providing it to people who seem to expect the world to be bent to fit them, and I should be part of the bending crew [if that makes sense].

And now I'm wondering if I'm a horrible person. :-\
"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."  - Julian of Norwich
Like Like x 1 View List