"Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we're very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It's as if we've divided the world into 'those who offer help' and 'those who need help.' The truth is that we are both." - Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
I've been told numerous times by friends and family that I need to stop giving unsolicited advice; that they are perfectly capable of finding solutions to their problems; that they just need an ear and a shoulder. I respond internally with, "how do I just sit here and not help you change what's not working for you?" "how do I do nothing as you suffer?" Well I'm learning that empathy is not "nothing." Quite the opposite actually. Empathy is everything people need to feel safe and connected. Empathy is why people courageously come back to you to share their deepest fears and shame. Empathy helps.
Empathy is something I work on every day. Putting away the judgment (mostly self-judgment) and allowing myself to be present in the emotions of what's going on. Trying to connect instead of fix. It's not easy - I'm almost 30 and I've spent the majority of my life looking at the world through a lens of problems and solutions. What if, instead, there were only experiences. Things that we go through that occur to us personally in one unique way - in a way that doesn't occur for anyone else. Then the need to label something as a problem transforms into the ability to see something as an experience.
If a friend calls to talk about his concerns about his relationship, or her desire to get a raise at work, they are searching for connection and understanding. Viewing their experiences as just that might open you up to a world where you can offer yourself as a safe space, creating the possibility of more connection in the future.
And if they want your advice - they'll ask.