I could feel myself shutting down.
I assume you probably have experienced the feeling; breathing out a breath and sitting tight and empty for a second, stomach clenching, before you can breathe in again. Going from having a million things to say, to suddenly the emptiest of brains (ever seen inside Emmett’s brain in the Lego Movie? Think that), and your desire to speak is completely gone. Honestly I even revert to keeping still and moving only my eyes.
It’s not intentional. Just a response. A freeze response, on the flight, fight, freeze scale.
Anyway, I was freezing. I was sitting on the couch freezing as my boyfriend complained about his work. How his coworkers were jerks, how he felt stuck, how they only hired him to take out the trash. How they said things that were stupid and how they mistreated him.
At the head level, this really isn’t so terrifying. It’s the kind of thing you could listen to while folding laundry. But have I told you my head and my heart don’t always work on the same wavelength?
To my heart, this presentation was terrifying. My boyfriend’s world was falling apart and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Someone I loved was hurting. And I was useless and helpless. In fact, the more he detailed the problems of his work, the more I saw regular human actions driving him nuts… which meant my own day to day actions might upset him. Instead of helping him, I might add to that pain. My best intentions might not be enough; I might not be enough.
It was not safe to be me.
So, I was tense and, no doubt about it; he was bristly. And I felt like I was sitting next to a porcupine on that couch. The more he played the role of porcupine, the more I played the role of clam. I don’t think either of us was having fun.
At some point he asked me what was bothering me. But I’m feeling not enough, remember?
I admitted that I could see the reasoning behind some of the things his jerk coworkers did and I was afraid that this put me in his category with jerks. “At some point, I’m going to drive you as crazy as your coworkers drive you. And then you’re going to hate me, too.”
I looked at him with wide eyes, eyes that maybe were filling with tears.
“No, BethAnn! I don’t hate my coworkers! And I definitely don’t hate you!”
“But you just spoke as if you hated work and you hated your coworkers and…”
And the walls came down.
It wasn’t really that he hated anybody at work. It was that at work, he felt inadequate. He felt like he couldn’t measure up. He felt not good enough and insufficient. He felt alone, unknown, and stuck. He hurt a lot and he didn’t feel safe expressing it that plainly.
He started crying.
I started crying.
And I wanted to unclam, to give him a massive bear hug, to connect with him and show him that I understand what it’s like to feel each and every of those painful emotions. I wanted to sit with him in his insecurities, to express my own fears, to draw closer to him and to encourage him in his hurt.
When I understand his hurt, I feel less helpless and inadequate. Maybe I can’t take away his rough situation, but I sure as heck know what those feelings feel like and I’m more than willing to listen to his heart. I know how to be with him in that. I am not completely insufficient myself.
Dear reader, if you want my love, don’t just tell me life sucks. I can’t fix life sucks. Don’t just tell me how awful other people are. I can’t fix how awful other people are. Don’t just complain to me about the traffic. I can’t fix the traffic.
When you share these things, I cannot help you. I am insufficient. I am not enough and I am pushed away. Don’t just tell me about how the world has it in for you.
Tell me “I hurt.”
But I know how to sit with you in “I hurt.” I know how to empathize with “I hurt.” I know how to connect over “I hurt.” When you tell me “I hurt.” I want to come closer.
I want to know you. Are you willing to share you with me?