This store requires javascript to be enabled for some features to work correctly.

If you’re having a pity party… grab a hat!

The challenges we face in our Plum years are multifaceted. We’re simultaneously dealing with snotty teens we launch into college or careers, aging parents who require help but sometimes don’t accept it, and changes to our bodies, minds, relationships, and careers. 

On top of all that, many of us haven’t done a great job of setting boundaries. We do too much, and often feel responsible for everything - even when it might not be our responsibility.

It can be a lot.

In these situations, how can we show up for one another? How do you support your Plum friends in a way that is helpful, but is not presumptuous or disempowering? 

My friend recently had a particularly difficult day filled with life transitions and discomforts, and said she was planning to have a pity party for herself.  I suggested that, if she was planning a party, she should wear a hat - otherwise it wasn’t really a party. More to the point, I didn’t try to talk her out of her feelings of discomfort. I don’t love the word “pity” as it has connotations of powerlessness, but to accept it was to validate her feelings of disappointment, frustration and hurt.  Not trying to talk her out of her pity was my way of validating her perspective and just supporting her.

Whether we are comforting ourselves or others, it’s important to recognize a few things.

Often, people who are experiencing difficulties just want to be accepted and heard. Perhaps they want comfort, and maybe even for you to agree with them and join them in their sorrow. But they usually don’t want or need you to solve their problem, even if you could.  We often remind the problem-solving, agentic folks (aka men) of this, but we communal folks need this reminder too, as we sure feel rewarded by stepping in to solve problems for the people we love. Jumping in to solve a problem automatically and without asking may communicate that someone needs to be rescued, which isn’t empowering at all. 

Not everything needs to be fixed or solved. Some things just need to be tolerated or endured, and this doesn’t mean we have failed.  We can’t restore a parent’s memory, or undo our kids’ mistakes, or reverse time and quit a job that ended up being toxic. We just have to manage the pain or discomfort of those situations, holding our head high, and acting with love or integrity.  When we support our fellow Plums who are going through these things, we can’t fix the situation any more than they can, but we can listen, and offer a shoulder. 

Some things can be fixed, and if so, first ask if they want your help. If they do, then get to work!  Taking tangible action on some part - even if it is small - can make the rest of it feel more under control, and therefore bearable.  In some situations, the negative thoughts and feelings use up more energy than if we just solved the problem. We all can use a little help at times, just don’t let this be the expectation you hold when you enter a conversation with someone you want to support.

It is important to remember that there is a difference between pain and suffering.  You usually cannot control whether something is painful, but that doesn’t mean we need to suffer.  Suffering is our interpretation of something painful - how we choose to let it affect us. Pain is a fact of life, but suffering is optional. In Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl reminds us that the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance is the ultimate human freedom. Often people in pain benefit from this encouragement - or permission.

Know that it won’t always feel like this. Acute discomfort is usually temporary. Looking for a silver lining is helpful, but if that isn’t possible, recognize that time usually conspires to change the situation, your feelings, or both.  When we’re in pain we sometimes think that we’re always going to feel that way. I assure you… we won’t. Even the deepest wounds heal if the environment is healthy, and if you grant it time. It can be helpful to reassure yourself - or the Plums you are supporting - of the temporary nature of feelings.

Lastly, if you are planning to have a pity party, grab some hats and invite your friends. The more the merrier! Just having other Plums show up and provide emotional support will lower blood pressure and increase good neurotransmitters - in addition to all those good feelings. Having the space to be real with our friends, including being able to air difficult or vulnerable emotions, is often the most important thing we can ask for or provide to the people we love. 

Oh, and if you’re in need of a hat that makes you feel cherished and supported, check out this one! 

- Dr. Jill