Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Two people in my life recently wanted me to say specific things to them to fulfill their emotional needs. It wasn’t a personal preference, as in, “Please refer to my wedding as my union” — a simple request — but, “I want you to say sorry even though you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.” Or, “I want you to ask me about this because I want to talk about it.”
I told both of these people I thought these requests were ludicrous.
What aggravates me is that I don’t think they got what they were looking for, which is asking me to feel emotions I don’t feel, then to express these insincere emotions to their satisfaction.
Seriously, where does a person draw the line? Maybe to just smooth the waters and make people feel better, you’re supposed to say anything?
But I Want You to Say
Wow — hard to see past your dukes, they’re up so high.
These people want something from you that you’re obviously not giving — and I’m not talking about the stock, insincere phrasing that you rightly question but too-combatively deride to their faces.
I’m talking about the emotional satisfaction they would derive from knowing they’ve been heard. If I read correctly between the lines here, you’ve knowingly denied them the “I hear you” assurance they seek.
The thing is, “hearing” them doesn’t have to mean you agree with what they’re saying. You can understand their points even as you disagree. Take the secret love letter from Tuesday’s column, for example. You can believe the wife mishandled it, but still understand completely why she made the choice she did — in the context of her needs and her world view. It’s a broadening of what you treat as valid, so that validity encompasses others’ natures and views.
So where you see ludicrous requests, I see unfortunately phrased versions of “Please understand me.”
Try that next time, I suggest, in lieu of quibbling with their methods. Listen carefully and make it clear you grasp how they feel, even when your experience puts you entirely somewhere else.
Re: Ludicrous: I get this a fair amount from my 20-year-old daughter. We have a good relationship, but sometimes — deliberately or not — I miss my lines. You know, the, “That’s awful!” or “You poor baby!” or “You’re so smart,” or whatever form of affirmation/sympathy/support she is looking for at that moment. Then she might tell me, “Dad, you’re not very good at this.”
Truth is, I don’t want to give her everything she wants, every time. That’s not what a parent should do, and it’s not what a friend should do, either.
Still, a friend who tells you what she wants you to say is also saying: “I could use some sympathy or validation right now, and it doesn’t have to be heartfelt.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sometimes honoring a request like that.
“Sometimes” is key, thanks.
The person feeling unsympathetic to a sympathy request also has options besides just caving at one extreme or batting it down at the other: “I know you want sympathy, but” — for example — “this comes up so often I don’t think sympathy is helping.” There’s always room for a truth kindly told.
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