My hairdresser is forever trying to convince me to let him dye my gray hairs. For years, I have been disappointing him by refusing. At the ripe old age of (inaudible) I have come to appreciate my gray hair as something I have earned. For me, my grays remind me of the more difficult struggles through which I have navigated during my life. More specifically, they remind me of my strength for having endured. This feels like a perfect metaphor for how we generally respond to the suffering of others.
One of my most deeply held beliefs is that we must give people the dignity of their suffering. Other people’s suffering often makes us uncomfortable. That is especially true when they are our loved ones. Our inclination to try to solve their problems, dismiss problems as ‘not-so-bad,’ or even blame people for creating their own mess, often stems from our own discomfort from seeing them in pain. It is so hard to watch those we love suffer, and if they would just ‘knock it off’ we would be oh-so-much happier. However, when we insert ourselves into someone else’s relationship with their suffering, we send the message that they are incapable of handling their own struggle. Giving people the dignity of their suffering is really a show of respect. Dolly Parton once said, “The deepest roots come from the strongest storms.” It is through the “biggest storms”, lifes' most difficult challenges, that we learn the most about ourselves and our strength. When we try to ‘protect’ other people from their struggling, we deny them the opportunity for growth. Suffering is not something to be feared. It creates an opening for increased resilience, growth, perspective and courage.
I feel so honored to be a therapist. Every day I get to join people on their journeys as they learn to grow through lifes' biggest challenges. I get to help my clients see that they are so much more capable than they know and I get to celebrate their gray hairs right along with them.