Saturday, October 25, 2008

Compulsive Positivism

I spend a lot of my time talking to healthcare professionals and students about offering "honesty when honesty is requested." I ask that they begin to consider that a person can find joy no matter the physical issues. I preach that they should give us patients more credit and not automatically assume we need coddling.

But, then, there I am talking to a fellow CF/Transplant buddy who is facing rapidly progressing chronic rejection and I can't stop sugar-coating, pitying and coddling without provocation. My mouth is spouting some dramatic declarations like "maybe this is the worst of it and things will get better from here" and the back of my mind is yelling "will you shut up? he doesn't need your half-baked reassurances!"

This person, Tom, was speaking to me in part because I have been to a similar place. I have had chronic and I have had to weigh my options while watching the important numbers on the pulmonary function tests drop and drop some more. Tom didn't want sugar, he wanted truth from someone who has been there and could talk about the hard stuff most people would run away from. But, in my own way, I ran away too. I just couldn't stop with the platitudes.

What happened to me? Why was I powerless over my compulsive positivism? What is it about human nature or this culture we live in that is so firmly embedded in our DNA that even when we want to "get real" we somehow find our mouths filled with sugar, telling tales of lightness while standing in the middle of darkness?

I am sorry, Tom. I feel I let you down. You asked me for an honest ear and instead I bulldozed over you when you tell the truth of your anger, your fears and the reality of your physical body. Instead I offered up inane ideas like "maybe the tests are wrong" or "you feel that way now, but I'm sure you'll feel better tomorrow." What kind of friend am I? One that wasn't able to deliver on the promise of being a safe place to fall.

Where did this need to make it all better come from and how do I stop it?


Jen! said...

My guess is that it IS human nature to want to give the people around us hope - even if it is false hope. I know the only way I stop in myself from turning into a happy BS factory (which I am not always successful at) is to go with the basic "reflective listening" technic (you know, tell the person how sorry I am that they are scared or feeling depressed and that I can't imagine what it must feel like or I know what it feels like and it sucks!)

I think we all battle with the desire to be a good listening ear and the desire to tell our friends it's all going to be OK or get better, even when it may not.

Genevieve said...

From a receiving end- I get really exhausted with fake smiles and insincerity. I appreciate the genuine friends I have that try to empathize by listening and refraining from being shallow in their responses. The heartless comments from strangers I can do without. Our world is full of alot of selfish people.

From a giving end, I'm a good listener, I try to validate and affirm what others are feeling without pouring on too much ooze.

I recently spoke to a good friend who felt the same as you about having this desire to make it all better and they realized they had this insatiable need to fix people, it was a control issue they had. They had such anxiety when people would tell them their problems and when they didn't have the answer, they went into overdrive.