Most of us can likely remember a time when someone around us was suffering. Maybe we’re even witnessing this in some way right now in our lives, or even more in a general sense with different events in our world. It can be really hard to manage the emotions that may come with these experiences. So what can we actually do in order to deal with our own feelings as a witness to someone else’s pain?
If we’re honest, the levels of suffering we see around us in our lives and especially in the lives of our loved ones can have a great impact on our own abilities to find true peace in our hearts. Even so, I think there are definitely a few things we can do that can really help us in these situations.
1. Feel Your Own Feelings
I think that the very best thing we can do when we see someone suffer is to give ourselves permission to feel our own emotions about the situation, whatever those emotions may be. Now, we may choose to feel our emotions privately or perhaps with someone we trust, at a little later time, or not directly around the person who is suffering, depending on the circumstance and on our relationship with the person. But I think it’s so very important that we allow ourselves to feel these emotions.
Sometimes, due to so many reasons, it may be easy to push our emotions aside. We may get caught up in the noise and activities of life and quickly refocus on other things. We may also actually be a little afraid to feel our emotions. But I believe that’s only because we judge some of our emotions to be bad or to be frightening.
I’ve found that the sooner we can accept our emotions for whatever they are, even if we may feel that they seem bad or frightening, the sooner we can sit with them and then move through them. And when we move through our own emotions, we have so much more energy available to us to decide how to best act after we have witnessed another’s suffering.
2. Choose to Offer Assistance or to Step Back and Simply Offer Love
Often, our natural human inclination is to want to offer some kind of assistance to someone who is suffering, and in many cases, we may be able to do so. Sometimes, just simply letting someone know that we are there for them can be enough to show our love and support, if they are willing to receive it in that way. But this is where I think it can really help us to step back and reflect on choosing to offer our assistance on a case-by-case basis. There really may be times where our assistance will actually not help in certain situations, as much as we may wish it would.
For instance, it may actually not benefit us or a loved one if we offer our time or assistance in a situation when we can potentially be enabling them to continue in a behavior that is unhealthy for themselves and for others around them. As much as we hope that we can help their situation change, sometimes it can be better to step back and to allow them the amazing chance to learn from the challenges in their lives. In doing so, we can create healthy boundaries by honoring ourselves and our own resources, such as time and money, and yet, we can know that we have not truly stopped loving someone deep within our hearts. We can choose to love in a different way, perhaps sometimes from a distance, all while knowing that our love on a deeper scale has not diminished. It has simply changed form, and we can choose to hold loving space for our loved one as long as we wish to. At first, this can seem really challenging, but with practice, it can offer us so much peace of mind.
3. Surrender—or, as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” puts it, “Let It Go”
Sometimes, one of the most challenging—yet the most powerful—things we can do when we see someone suffering, after we’ve done all we feelit best to do, is to let go of the situation and allow it to be released from our minds and hearts. I think that the idea of surrender is so often thought of as a sign of defeat, as if we have failed ourselves or others somehow if we feel we must do it. But I like to believe that it can be seen as one of the best, most loving, and most freeing things we can do for ourselves when we really acknowledge that we’ve done all we healthily can to help another person or situation.
In truly choosing to surrender, we are not powerless. We are in fact reclaiming our own power by allowing ourselves to release what is no longer our challenge to carry.
Some people find it helpful to imagine surrendering these challenging feelings in their hearts and minds to a higher power in which they believe. Others may benefit from thinking of surrender as a great release of energy, of something which has gotten too heavy for us to take on and to carry alone. Whatever way you may think of surrender, you can rest assured that in choosing to “let it go,” you are choosing the greatest amount of love for yourself and for your loved one in the process.
With true surrender, we are also not in denial of being able to change a situation in our lives that we may truly have the power to change. However, it seems to be greatly planted within our human nature to want to try to do all we can to change a loved one’s situation or take away their suffering, and also at times to deny the power we have to change our own situations and reduce our own suffering.
We have so much more power than we may admit to in changing our own lives! We can also realize that others have to make their own choices about how they manage their own suffering and if they want to make changes in their own lives. If we allow them this precious choice, even if in doing so, their actions are not what we wish they’d be, we give them the ultimate freedom to live their lives however they see fit. And in giving them this freedom, we gift ourselves with it as well.
When we can truly surrender, or “let it go,” we may feel an emptiness for awhile, and we may indeed feel powerless over a situation which we cannot change. However, underneath those possible initial feelings of emptiness or powerlessness lies a vast amount of space that is more valuable than gold. Within this space, we can find true peace, deep in our hearts and minds. We can also refocus that space and that energy into other areas of our lives which can bring us added growth, possibility, and joy.
We have done all we can, and/or all we feel it best to do as a witness to another’s suffering. We have sent direct assistance, and/or we have sent love. And now, we can peacefully release the energy of another’s suffering, so that we can continue to replenish our own selves with the energy we need to live our best lives, and to be able to respond and more peacefully witness not only the suffering in this great world, but all the joy, all the power, the capability, the love, and the unlimited potential of which we are all truly made. And that, to me, is nothing short of miraculous.
What helps you when you see others suffering? Have you found that any of these three things can help? Have you found other things that help you? Feel free to leave a comment below--I'd love to know what helps you, and your comment may inspire others as well!
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Want to explore more about how you relate to your own feelings, and in turn, how you relate to others around you? Check out my first book here. It's the perfect place for you to do just that.
No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,