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Showing You Care: How You Can Be There For Others When You Have A Disability

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It’s a topic that most of us don’t like to think about, but one that is unavoidable. Living with a disability makes even the most basic of tasks more difficult – that’s a given, probably not something you need to be told. As a result of this, however, we can become somewhat insular.

Is This A Reasonable Way To Be?

There is absolutely no blame, shame or anything like it from this being the case. When things that other people take for granted are difficult, you have to be selfish. We live in a world that acknowledges disability but doesn’t understand it. Laws about discrimination and financial health are passed by the non-disabled. That’s not to say they can’t be compassionate because of this, but there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy.

showing-you-care-how-you-can-be-there-for-others-when-you-have-a-disability-holding-handsImage via Pixabay

You can quickly end up in a situation where you are the only one in your social circle who knows what you go through. As so few people investigate deeper into the issues and challenges that you face, you do it for yourself. This isn’t selfish or other such damaging words; it’s a survival tactic. If you treated the problems you face with the same dismissive attitude as well-meaning outsiders, you’d be in deep trouble.

When Does It Go Too Far?

I would argue that it doesn’t.

Think about what people talk about when they say they are worried about getting old. They talk about the loss of mobility, independence, daily aches and pains that make life less bearable. When you have a disability, you have reason to fear getting old – because these are already your reality.

showing-you-care-how-you-can-be-there-for-others-when-you-have-a-disability-wheelchairImage Source via Pixabay

We somehow accept these complaints with the older section of society, so give yourself a pass on them as well. While there are no doubt people with disabilities who make life difficult or “wallow” in self-pity, they are far from normal. They might just be unpleasant and selfish people, which you can be without a disability status.

So if you are concerned that you are too inwardly-focused: don’t be. You have every right to feel the way you do and sometimes struggle with compassion for others.

Why Do I Find It Difficult To Sympathize With Others?

This is one of the most fundamental reasons for discussing this problem. When your health is poor and every day is a battle against horrible odds, you can find your ability to sympathize and be compassionate wanes.

To someone who doesn’t understand why this happens, the solution is usually that you’re just an awful person. They will call you selfish, then toss a few nice comments your way to cover it. “I know that she has issues,” they snap, “and they are awful – but I struggle too. My boss made me stay late at work…”

Such a scenario tends to conjure up two emotions.

1) “You don’t “know” I have issues; you’re assuming it. You have no real idea of how it impacts me.” You are derisive in defense of yourself.

2) “Your boss made you stay late at work? Do you realize that I would kill for such a trivial issue?”

So the two combine: derision, mixed with a strange sense of envy.

If you’re already feeling all of those things… there’s sometimes just not much room left for compassion.

So Am I Justified?

Yes and no.

Yes: your reasons for complaint are valid. In the above example, the person accusing you of being selfish is being unreasonable themselves. They probably even know that, but – ironically – their problems are too big for them to see past.

In this case, a lack of compassion would be justifiable. Though it might be worth making an extra effort if you value the friendship.

However, there are other circumstances where you need to dust off the compassion and learn to put yourself aside. This is when the people in your life are going through life-changing difficulties. They might have an unwell child; be dwelling on the possibility of moving a parent into a senior living center or have lost their job. These are not small issues that happen in an acute fashion; they’re real problems that result in chronic upset and hurt.

On these occasions, feeling justified in struggling for compassion is harder to sell. There is no point having people in your life if you don’t expect to have to care about them.

How Do I Learn To Cope With It?

If you have established that the need for caring is important and the issue is valid, you then have to begin to work through your own feelings.

There’s a practical aspect to this most metaphysical of tasks. If your day is usually absorbed in the core practice of trying to exist, then finding the time to offer support can be difficult. You might need to plan ahead a phone call to see how they’re doing, or a trip for coffee to listen to the latest updates.

Obviously, don’t make yourself unwell or put yourself in situations you’re not comfortable with. That’s going above and beyond, and could not be considered reasonable. Instead, find some way of fitting time for the support you want to go.

With that done, you need to work out why you’re struggling for compassion even when you intellectually know it should be there. Sit in front of a mirror and ask yourself some questions. Answer them honestly, or there is little point in doing the exercise:

Is there a reason I am struggling to feel for this person? There might be a slight in the past you have not got over, or you generally don’t feel supported by them.

If you do decide something from the past is getting in the way of your current actions: is it reasonable? If there is a genuine issue that you have a good reason to be upset about, you have two options.

Can I get over this problem to support them?


Do I think this point is valid, and I am not sure how to be there for them with this hanging over us?

If you decide the latter is the problem, then it might be wise to step aside. Send an email saying you feel for their problems, but you can’t discuss them at the moment. This is not the time to go charging in seeking to resolve an issue from the past. Wait until the storm in their lives has eased and then bring it up, so you can put the issue to bed once and for all.

If, however, there is either no prior problem or one you can push past, continue:

Is the idea of supporting them making me feel uncomfortable, as I worry our friendship group is going to forget about me and my needs? You might not like the answer to this, but being aware of your own thoughts is a big part of dealing with the matter.

Is there anything I can realistically do to help them? This is worth keeping in mind. If you can’t quite conjure up the energy for all-night chats about how awful things are and offer your assistance in an emotional way, then don’t. Instead, go for a practical solution. It still shows you care but doesn’t require the kind of emotional exposure you might not be feeling at this point in time, for your own reasons. Maybe there is a phone call you can make on their behalf or researching something online – you won’t know until you make the offer.

showing-you-care-how-you-can-be-there-for-others-when-you-have-a-disabilityImage via PixaBay

Can I Make Myself Feel More Caring and Compassionate When Others Struggle?

Going through the above can be tough; none of us like to acknowledge we are having issues with caring for others. It doesn’t matter if they’re a sibling or just an acquaintance; we all want to feel we have a limitless supply of empathy. Realising that we don’t can be a rather bracing fact to have to confront about yourself.

With that said, you can’t make yourself feel anything. If you do not have an instinctive, guttural reaction to a problem someone is having, it probably isn’t going to come. In some ways, this can be seen as a positive thing. You have too much to handle already without taking on extra emotional burden for someone else – and don’t feel like a monster for feeling that.

So while you might not cry over their issue or want to devote hours to helping them resolve it, you still want to help. The most crucial point of all of this is that thing exactly: you want to help. You know and understand why compassion is not something that comes easily to you – and you want to fix it. You’re already halfway there, by being honest enough with yourself to acknowledge it. So, in conclusion:

Don’t force yourself to feel something you don’t.

If you don’t feel capable of emotional support, then offer practical advice.

Remove yourself from the situation if there is a history impacting your behavior.

Take credit in knowing that you are doing your best – and that’s all that you can ever do.

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