The “Sympathy vs. Respect?” blog article produced lots of online and email responses. One common theme can be summarised: “I should be doing something even if the unhappy or unwell person doesn’t want it!”
Sam and Ulrica
I have made a composite of the comments and come up with a typical scenario:
1. Uneasy Ulrica is unwell or unhappy. Ulrica has explicitly said that she does not want sympathy. Nor does she want people empathising with her. Nor does she want people telling her how she ‘must be’ feeling.
2. Her friend, Sympathising Sam, naturally wants to respect and support Ulrica’s wishes. But Sam also wants to let Ulrica know that she is loved and supported and cared for. Sam feels that giving Ulrica the space to do things her way (as was suggested in my first blog article) would be equivalent to abandoning Ulrica to her difficulties. Nevertheless, as Sympathising Sam well recognises, continuously asking her how she is doing would feel intrusive and probing.
The NLP Meta Model
Using the wonderful NLP Meta Model we recognise that Uneasy Ulrica’s Complex Equivalence for ‘support’ (i.e. the meaning or significance she attaches to this word) is I am being supported when I am given space to do things my way.
And this is exactly what Sympathising Sam did. This is great for Ulrica because Sam is matching Uneasy Ulrica’s needs – and her explicit request.
… on the other hand Sympathising Sam’s Complex Equivalence for ‘support’ is different to Ulrica’s! And her’s is right for Sam though not for Ulrica.
In Sympathising Sam’s world ‘support’ is equivalent to, or means, letting Ulrica know that she is being supported by Sam. (And it’s likely that, in Sympathising Sam’s world, she knows she is doing the ‘support’ thing effectively when the other person reassures her that her version of ‘support’ is working and is appreciated.)
‘I’ve done the right thing’
So once she has demonstrated her version of support in this way Sympathising Sam can relax knowing she has done the ‘right thing’. Now she doesn’t need to feel guilty about being happy even though Uneasy Ulrica is having a hard time! Now Sam can that she is feel wanted and appreciated by Uneasy Ulrica.
The problem with this approach is that it is self-centred. It isn’t ‘other person centred’.
This approach is about Sympathising Sam’s feelings rather than Uneasy Ulrica’s. It is about what can Sam do to make herself feel at ease rather than what is best for Ulrica.
What’s more, rather than helping or easing the burden of Ulrica’s feelings, Sympathising Sam has added to this burden. Now instead of being allowed to get on with dealing with her own situation – and in her own personal and unique way – Ulrica has to pay attention to whether or not she is doing an adequate job of reassuring Sam!
If we truly care for someone this can often includes the process of associating into, or physically imagining, what we believe they are experiencing. This kinaesthetic association is risky because it is a Mind Read (that Meta Model, again!) – it’s imposing our imaginings on the other person.
But if we really care for the other person the only valid question to ask ourselves is ‘what do they consider is right for them!’
What people ‘should’ feel
Sympathising Sam’s approach is supported, or perhaps is the result of, the old-style, traditional counsellors who have an un-challengeable recognition of what people (i.e. absolutely every person on the planet!) need when unhappy or unhealthy. They even have, for example, formulaic ‘stages’ which a person must go through in resolving grief – otherwise, in their unchallengeable view, the person can be potentially ‘damaged’ through being ‘in denial.’
Now while this is good for the counsellors’ business, and for their bank account, it does not recognise the autonomy of their client/customer. Irrespective of what the customer is experiencing, irrespective of how they feel, and irrespective of their wishes, they are told how they ‘should’ be feeling.
No room for autonomy. No room for personal integrity.
The NLP approach is simple
The NLP approach simply involves asking the other person (i.e. the person who is unwell or unhappy) what they want. It then involves taking into account their verbal and, especially, their non-verbal response – and respecting this.