Chaplain's Log: The Bridge to Them

a screenshot of an instagram post from @thehospitalchaplain depicting white meme text over a blue background that reads: YOU KNOW YOU'RE A CHAPLAIN WHEN YOU HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION WHEN ANYONE SAYS, "I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE GOING THROUGH"

Oof. Yes.

Okay, so you're with someone, and they are sharing something just brutally awful. It is so natural to want to connect with them, especially out of your own awful experiences, to build a bridge between you so they can follow you back to a better place.

Here's the thing about those bridges in such moments of acute suffering: they are one-way.

Use the bridge to move closer to *their* experience. Not to pull them over to yours.

Even when you think you know what they're going through. *Especially* when you think you know what they're going through.

Instead of saying "I know what you're going through," here are some other options:

  1. Don't say anything. Remain there as you were, but allow yourself to keep silent. Just staying there is a body language way to convey, "What you are saying is important and I am listening."
  2. Do a quick scan of your own interior processing: what are you feeling, hearing this? What are your impulses? Acknowledge this to yourself.
  3. Never underestimate the power of a monsyllabic mouth noise in combination with remaining present, e.g. "Mm." "Oof." "Wow." 
  4. Embrace the paradox(es) of the moment: you can't possibly understand - yet you are connecting. Even when you've been through something similar - they are not you. When you have no experience with what they're talking about and it seems horrifying/mystifying - here you are, connecting anyway. Remaining present (if desired) and open-hearted is more than enough good for the moment. 
  5. There may be times when some self-disclosure is appropriate, while honoring the integrity of their distinct situation. Like: "Listening to you I'm remembering some of the things I've experienced that have left me grieving/reeling/confused/etc. too...this kind of thing can be so hard." Connecting to a possible shared feeling in addition to a possible shared experience.
  6. When you need to pull back, accept that need, communicate it, and kindly leave the one you're with. Often I feel badly for not having been able to do more. The thing is, unfixable moments are not made better with overstaying, no matter how guilty I may feel. My worry and sadness about leaving without doing more is my problem, my grief. Not the other person's.

Build the bridge, but remember that it is one-way: you moving toward them, if they want it. Let that be enough, for now.


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