Learning To Be Cared For

Recently (30 March 2013, “Silencing the Critic”) I blogged about how difficult it is to graciously accept a compliment, due mainly to social conditioning. The small point I made in that post is how easily this self criticism can become destructive and habitual. Mine was just one of several posts on that topic in the days before and just after I published my blog entry. It seems that a lot of women in the blogosphere, including FemmeOutLoud on the Melange blog, struggle with this for a variety of reasons, including social conditioning and a belief that we somehow don’t deserve praise. In my experience, among women in general and, (anecdotally, subjectively, and completely un-scientifically) butch or masculine women in particular, there seems to be a pervasive compulsion to suppress the desire for, and reaction to, praise.

In dealing with a couple of personal matters over the weekend, it occurred to me that this reflexive self-deprecation has an insidious corollary in an inability to graciously accept the related, and far more vital, expressions of caring and love: empathy and sympathy.

Whether or not social conditioning plays a role in this aspect of the problem is unclear to me. But I do know that, in my own personal experience, reasons include that same “I don’t deserve” belief as was tied to the deflection of praise, as well as a tendency to interpret empathy as pity. I don’t think anyone wants to be thought pitiful or weak, nor does anyone want to burden others with baggage that engenders pity; I know I can’t abide pity directed toward me.

But in addition to these obvious issues, this weekend’s events also made it clear to me that there is something even more fundamental in my seeming compulsion to deflect expressions of love and care. Accepting these expressions of caring from the people who are most important to me is a form of vulnerability.

While caring and love generally flow naturally in close relationships, without need of a specific prompt, expressions of empathy and sympathy arise from the revelation of need: I have to open myself up to examination for others to see where it hurts, or I have to admit to myself that I have a need that I can’t fulfill on my own. That kind of exposure comes with the inherent risk of fresh hurt from the one to whom I give access to my open heart.

Compound this vulnerability with the implication of weakness intrinsic to admitting a need for help, comfort, support, (dare I say it?) love, and you have the perfect storm for creating a reticent, uncommunicative, stoic butch who doesn’t trust and unnecessarily carries a burden of guilt and shame, pushing away the very ones who can and want to help.

What a mess!

Luckily, the important people in my life are just as stubborn as I am and will not be pushed away so easily. And, luckily, I am not so stupid as to ignore a miraculous gift of unconditional acceptance and willing support when it lands in my lap. So it was that I learned an epic lesson in the healing power of friendship this Sunday. When faced with a situation fraught with emotion, when choking on the accumulated detritus of past hurts, friends (some of whom don’t even know they contributed to the solution) swooped in and rescued me. Although the healing is only just begun, I did learn this: asking for help isn’t weakness and empathy and sympathy aren’t pity.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers (ButchOnTap), “it’s butch to” accept the loving care of your friends.

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2 comments so far

  1. Femmi on

    Wow! I am awestruck by this. You are so insightful.

    Empathy is not pity, and having a loved one share the burden of your hurts makes you both stronger. It empowers them and lifts the burden from you.

    Keep writting dear soul. It is beautiful to see inside your mind.

    • Searching4Self2013 on

      “…makes you both stronger. It empowers them and lifts the burden from you.”

      What a great thought. One reason I’ve always been reticent to share is that I simply didn’t want to foist my burden onto someone else. But your thought, that rather than a mere burden the sharing can be a source of that person’s growth as well as my own, is beautiful.

      That makes me think, which I like.

      Thanks so much!


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