How to Help Without Harm

I ran across an interesting article on wikiHow called "How to Forgive the Unforgivable." The first thing the article lists as advice is to realize that the hate you feel does not harm your enemy in the slightest. The last piece of advice is to be sure you don't take your anger out on someone else (child, partner, etc.) while you are stomping around in anger at being wronged. Although the article has good intentions, it is just a superficial scratch on the surface of emotional pain Dear Abby style. It misses things that might be truly helpful and hits on things that might even be harmful.

Half truths are not helpful at all.

The first clue that the article was going to miss the point was by its inclusion of the phrase "respond to evil with kindness." As a good friend of mine always says, "What kind of smoke are you doping?" I'll tell you straight out that the most kindness I can give a jackass is by walking away.

The next phrase, right in the first paragraph too, is "develop a habit of gratitude." Thank you, best friend, for allowing me to walk in on you and my boyfriend doing the hanky-panky. What? Not in this lifetime. They are both promoted to "X" status.

Then we have, "your enemy may not deserve to be forgiven…" They seem to have forgotten "judge not lest ye be judged." So, which way is it?

Other words used in the article - such as Jericho, poor soul (might as well just say 'pitiful' and get it over with), repent, bless, vessel, holy and enemy - all indicate a set of adopted values and mores that are not integrated, true aspects of the individual. Close, but no cigar. It's just acting. Those that walk around using these kinds of words and phrases are the ones trying to beat oxymorons into their heads so hard that they forget the distress and anxiety of cognitive dissonance - i.e., being a follower is not the easy way to 'fit in' after all. The truth behind the meaning of the words is absent, making them void, hollow, and empty. They are nothing but a pile of dogma.

The reality is that there's a huge chasm between fundamentalism and faith. In the end, it's no help at all. It may even be harmful. Tell a person in emotional pain something that they cannot do (forgive, be grateful, etc.) and you add in feelings of worthlessness to the emotional quagmire. In essence, you are telling him that he deserved what he got because he is such a weakling that can't rise to the occasion. Let's just add insult to injury here.

Look around.

Our culture gives us many opportunities to stretch our wings emotionally, to practice vicariously. Amusement park rides are an example. What other way can you experience dropping from 3 or 4 stories and live through it, or experience G forces so strong that you feel your internal organs plastered against your spine? I practiced road rage in bumper cars long before I got behind the wheel of my first car. Then there's the roller coaster that gives you a good idea what it would feel like if the brakes went out in your car driving down Rt. 6 in the Rocky Mountains.

I watched the Wizard of Oz every year growing up, and finally had to stop watching it in my 20's because I'd cry every time Dorothy cried when she couldn't get into the Emerald City. Immersing yourself in a good movie is sure to give sadness, grief, pain, fear, anticipation and dread good workouts.

"The Horse Whisperer" was the most recent book I read that I could not stop reading until I reached the end. A good book can take you on an emotional ride along with it and, along with movies and amusement parks, can give you a chance to experience emotions you might never have a chance to feel otherwise.

Books and movies tend to focus on negative emotions more often than positive ones. I had the LP album (large plastic disk played on a turntable), the 8-track, the cassette, and now the CD of "Mother Lode" by Loggins and Messina. When I turn that CD on, I am taken right out of time, right out of my self. I experience joy.

Look within.

No two people are alike. No two people ever experience the same thing in the same way. You may come close in the case of identical twins, but in more common circumstances, two siblings will experience their shared family life in completely different ways. In court, unless an eye-witness's account is corroborated, it holds little weight. I watched my first adult film with my husband and two other couples. I was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face while two of the men had erections. The laughter was infectious and a potentially uncomfortable situation for me was averted.

Going to a movie theater, you can look around to see how others are reacting to the film and how they handle their reactions. That may be a viable guide for you, but far more important is to feel what you are feeling, 100%. Take the time to identify those feelings and the reasons you are reacting the way you are. That is something you have to do on your own, and a movie is a good place to practice. The goal is to correctly identify your emotions and your reactions to those emotions.

If you think that this is something not worth the time and effort, consider how easy it is to be angry when what you are really feeling is fear. If you've ever been in a minor fender-bender, you'll understand what I mean. You might jump out of the car and start yelling words your mother would be surprised to hear come out of your mouth while inside, your fear is slowly slowing down. If this or that had happened differently, you'd have been a-goner. Your adrenaline had kicked in and you came out fighting. But, the true emotion was fear, not anger. Feeling anger is a lot easier to accept.

It wouldn't take much to come up with a substantial list of the ways we misinterpret our emotions, or lie about them to ourselves. Because no two people are alike, no one can interpret your emotions for you or tell you how to feel. No one else can make you feel at all. No matter how hard you try, there is no way you can make yourself feel the way you think someone else feels either.

Build from there.

Once you get good at correctly identifying your emotions, you will no longer need or want to look to others to identify what you feel. You now have an "internal locus of control" or are "internally motivated," two psychology terms that describe this. You are honest with yourself, and you will find you no longer need or want to present to the world a "persona" or "different face" than who and what you really are. You also no longer need or want to "act" in order to fit in or belong. The one person that needs to accept you for who you are is you, and you do.

This is the beginning of the road to integrity, honor, honesty, trustworthiness, loyalty, altruism and empathy. Within and without are the same - congruence.

How to help.

If you want to help another person, help them identify their true feelings. You have to "walk a mile in their shoes" and "see through their eyes." You can't really do this, but that you are trying shows you want to understand, and that goes a lot farther in helping than the religious dogma I spoke about earlier. There is no potential for doing harm either.

Taking this path is at the heart of treatment for PTSD, depression and anxiety, and the basis for adjustment, marriage, family and grief counseling, to name a few.

Skip the Dear Abby dogma and truly help.

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