I finally figured out how I would like people to respond when I share something sad!

For a long time I’ve avoided sharing sad things about my past or sad feelings I’m having. I would sometimes have the urge to, but whenever I did I found it very …ungratifying. I am really not a reserved person and have many close relationships both with family and friends but the more experience I have gained in this area the less likely I have been to share such things.

I have found I don’t like advice or offers to help. I have found I don’t like sympathy…“that sounds really hard, I’m sorry you’re dealing with that” no matter how truly sincere. I don’t even like empathy! “something very similar to that happened to me and I felt very similarly, things like this suck” And I really don’t like that generally people feel and act awkward because they feel like they don’t know what to say and our whole conversation is derailed until we can get back on lighter footing.

All of which makes it very hard for me to respond when someone is sharing something sad with me because I know how bad all of the above makes me feel.

A while back Maastricht started this thread about not sharing personal issues with unhelpful family members. In my answer I said I usually didn’t because I almost never got a result that made me feel good.

Ever since that thread this issue has been mulling around in my head…was there any response I could get that I would like? Had I EVER gotten a response I liked?

I knew there was something about MandaJo’s answer in that thread about sharing things because she wanted her intimates to know what was going on with her that struck a chord in me.

In all my mulling I’ve finally realized that I want people to want to know me. If I shared something sad, like that my first baby died when she was four months old, I think I would like it if someone said something like:

“Oh my god, that’s so sad! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I know it must be hard to talk about but now I feel I know another piece of you. Can I ask you more about it?”

The essential element there is the person actually expressing (and actually feeling) that they are glad to know me better. I think this is why therapy has always felt awful to me…because what I craved was actual human connection and the paying-for-it and we-are-only-talking-about-me aspects of therapy made that feel false or at least always under suspicion.

When I tried to remember any responses I’d liked the only ones I could think of were two friends who responded by asking a lot of curious questions…not quite
what I wanted but their curious questions did make me feel like they were interested in being connected with me. Both times I remember thinking the response was a little unusual…at least in the culture I live in, it could feel “prying” to some people, even though I liked it.

So there you go. Maybe it will be helpful to somebody else besides just me. I’ve really gotten some clarity writing it down here, so thanks!

Helpful idea - I like it!

I thought about it some more and I think that now I get it.

in the other thread, Manda Jo said:

I think she is right, and yet, that she has it backwards. First there is a feeling of frienship or love, and that feeling is expressed in the act of emotional sharing. The emotional sharing may deepen or start a relationship, but it can’t create one that isn’t there. That is why it feels so artificial to talk about intimate issues with someone that you really don’t care that much about.

I want to hear about my best friends life, because I like her. Our friendship doesn’t get better by sharing problems, but because the relationship is already good, I like hearing about everything in her life, including her problems. So Manda Jo is right, the connection is the relationship. But the relationship came first.

‘Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.’ -George Orwell

is that like what I said? I avoid sharing sadness because most responses I get leave me feeling neither loved nor understood, but mostly like I have caused a conversational problem that must now be solved.

So I finally hit on a response I would like…it would definitely make me feel loved…someone saying they are glad to know about me…it might make me feel understood if there were follow up questions…but only if the questions came from a genuine place of love.

I feel like I want to be loved more than I want to be understood. Quite possibly this is why I have usually not bothered sharing sad stuff…I get more love sharing other stuff. If understanding without love were on offer (say, from a therapist) I don’t think I would be interested.

There are professional ‘listening’ courses that teach this stuff (they’re pretty consistent with what you’re saying).

There’s a good reason for this; someone confides in you…

…you offer advice, you are (or may seem to be) making the conversation about you, and your great advice.
…you sympathise by saying “Oh yeah, I know how you feel - I had one of those…” you’re making the conversation about you.
(and so on).

I get this statement. I know my husband loves me. I know my friends care about me. But often I feel misunderstood. And I crave feeling like someone is making the effort to understand me. Not just like me or care about me, but its really meaningful when someone says “I read this book, and you will love it” and they are right.

I just re-read this with less tired eyes and wanted to make sure nobody took the 'you’s in the above to mean anything other than the generic ‘you’ (i.e. ‘one’)

Or to put it in a different way, from the POV of the person sharing:

You confide in someone and they offer advice, they’re sort of making the conversation about them and their great advice
You confide in someone and they say “Oh yeah, I know how you feel - I had one of those…”, they’re making the conversation about them and their experiences.

Ironically, and to my shame, my posts in this thread are faulty in the same way; the OP shared something, I chipped in with “hey, here’s a thing I know!”. Sorry.

You’re being a little hard on people who may mean entirely well toward you. A tragedy as major as the death of a child is so emotionally wrenching that people hearing about it will naturally be fearful of saying the wrong thing. Your reactions are not necessarily universal (and indeed, it’s taken you some time to identify them even for yourself), and other people might conversely prefer to mention that it happened and move on quickly.

You’re entitled to your feelings, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just thinking that for the sake of your own peace of mind, you might feel better about these interactions if you actively steered the conversation in the way that you’d like it to go. “This is a part of me, and I’m sharing it with you to help us get to know each other better.”

I get what you’re saying here, and to a large extent, I agree. It’s rarely helpful, to me, when people offer sympathy, sometimes advice is helpful in fixing the situation, but usually I’ll seek that out if I really want it. The reason I put my thoughts and feelings out to those close to me is because I want to feel understood, or at least provide some context to what’s going on so they can better appreciate why I may act or react in certain ways, and it’s usually just me needing space.

That said, it’s not necessarily what everyone seeks when they share things. I have plenty of friends who crave sympathy, some want to be comforted, others respond best to advice. Sort of meta here, but part of being understood is understanding what that person needs. My closest friends, they know what I need, and I’ve latched onto them precisely BECAUSE they give that to me, and different friends provide different things. I try to have that understanding myself about what they typically need, but be fluid enough to go with what they need in the moment as well.

It sounds a little odd, but maybe it would benefit you to tell your loved ones what you need. It might feel a little ham-handed, but I think clearly communicating can make it a better experience for everyone involved, that they can express their love to you in a way that you need it in the moment, and you can feel loved in the way you need it when you need it. I’ve even, in the middle of spieling, if I will sometimes stop midstream and let them know, for instance, that I’m not looking for sympathy or advice or whatever. But, again, thankfully, most of my closest friends see how I’m responding and will adjust accordingly.
In all of that, it is something great whenever someone gains that sort of insight into understanding themselves, I hope it helps improve those relationships; I think it will.

I’m not trying to criticize anybody, or even request anything from anybody. I have just found over the years that I more and more rarely share sad things and the reason is, as I said in Maastrict’s thread, doing so rarely got me anything I wanted, so I shared other things.

Popular wisdom along the lines of “talk about your problems you’ll feel better!” and books and movies where a character made a big breakthrough by finally being brave enough to share a tragedy from their past influenced me and then I was left confused and not feeling how I expected to feel after big shares. It took me a long time to realize what worked in platitudes and fiction might not work for me personally.

I was just wondering was there ANYTHING

damn hit wrong button, posted, took too long editing!

here is the rest of what I was trying to say:

I was just wondering if there was ANYTHING I would like in response to a big sad share. It’s mostly a thought experiment. I wouldn’t expect anyone to respond to me in this highly specific way I’ve just figured out or resent anyone for responding in a more usual way.

I’ve realized over the years how hard it is to respond to these things for everybody and gained a lot of compassion for everybody, including myself. I used to be really hard on myself and thought I never responded correctly or helpfully. Now I realize it’s hard for everyone plus everyone is different, so intuiting what a good response would be is really high level stuff.

Thanks for that script at the end of your post Tom, that is really helpful!

I think that your ideal response as you stated it, is highly unlikely to happen because it is not a normal thing to say when someone is telling you something personal and sad.

If someone tells me that their baby died I do not say: “thanks for sharing so I can know you better.”

I think you misunderstood: carlotta said that she might preface her own sad shares with that remark. So that the other person would know why she told them that.

I’m onboard with this.

I’ve occasionally said “I’d like to be loved, admired, and celebrated for who I am, but if I can’t have that, I’ll settle for being reviled and despised and ridiculed for who I am”. Which isn’t about being sad, per se, but about the desirability of being known and understood.

Hey Carlotta, thank you for sharing that insight. I was raised to feel bad about receiving help or sympathy, so what you say makes sense to me. It can feel easier to accept the gift of sympathy when the person frames our sharing our troubles as a gift of sorts to them.