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Thread: Toughlove or Sympathy?

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    Mistress of Shadows High House Moon night faerie's Avatar
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    Default Toughlove or Sympathy?

    This is a sort of unrelated segue following Fizz' comment, "they got themselves in this condition, let them deal with it." I've a moral Q for all of you.

    How do you feel about the choices people make and whether they deserve sympathy for the results of said choices. Hmmm, let me give an example.

    My mom is well known as being a super generous person, generally a good friend and great person overall. To me, however, she is very cold in this regard. For ex: Her sister lost her husband young, at age 50 after 25 years of marriage. That was about 15 years ago now. She's never gotten over it, or wanted to. She has been depressed since then, really a sad person, no interest in getting help, whittling away her money and complaining about how she may be homeless soon, she's down to 90lbs or so as she doesn't eat, you get the idea. My mom has no sympathy for her. In her opionion, it's her choice to spend her money unwisely, not to eat, and to never try to better herself in the physical or emotional sense, and so deserves no sympathy.

    I also used to have a crazy Uncle (my great-uncle, really) who was eternally on disability income as he was too crazy to hold down a job. OCD, compulsive gambler, mostly deaf, very difficult to get along with, the kind of guy who could never understand why he should take the antibiotics until they were gone, when after taking them for 3 days he felt better. My mom was big on saying, well, it was his choice to be in this situation (living in public housing, losing his wife & son when he gambled their $ away, ending up in a nursing home for many years alone at the end). I used to say I should really go visit him in the home but I loathed to;it was sad, he was so difficult to get along with, and my mom would tell me not to go, it was his choice that led him there and it was not my responsibility to be there for him or to feel bad about it.

    I listened to her then, because it was convenient for me and it alleviated my guilty conscience when I really didn't WANT to go. In retrospect, tho, I feel terrible about it, and he's gone 8 years now. I still feel bad about not being there for him when he had noone else.

    Thing is, I figure yes, people need to take responsibility for their choices, but is it my place to judge their choices as right or wrong and regardless, if someone is going through a tough time, even if it's a result of their choices, shouldn't I be there for them, to lend a sympathetic ear/shoulder?

    That said, I often still hear my mom's voice in my head when I don't FEEL like being there for someone, it's their choice to be there, let them live with it. Ironically, I have to question this impulse mostly in regards to my mom. When she's feeling sorry for herself and comes to me for sympathy, I don't really care, and I hear that old mantra in my head. But is it RIGHT? 'Course, it complicates matters in her case that I don't really like her.

    Stranger, friend or family member, are you sympathetic to people who have a difficult time/life as a result of their own choices? And are you ok with your own choice to sympathize or not?

    "...just an idle doodle in the margins of our minds ..."
    ...nf

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    Mistress of Shadows High House Moon night faerie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    Please note, I'm not looking for a Right or Wrong response, or debate. It's more an opening for discussion, it's an issue I've battled internally for years and I'm looking for new insight, or maybe a little affirmation.

    "...just an idle doodle in the margins of our minds ..."
    ...nf

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    ~sigh~ High House Dawn Buck's Avatar
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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    Hmm, when I was a little kid I used to hear this saying in Greece. It roughly translates as follows:

    Those that fish for sympathy do not deserve it, and those that side step it do

    Hopefully the translation doesn't butcher the point of the saying. In a nut shell, the morale of this anecdote is that sympathy is a shaming experience and it's not something you should pridefully request or expect. You should not demand a handout or aid, it's something that is completely in the hands of those that can help to decide to help you. Furthermore, this is an instruction that those that can should help the helpless. Especially those that need help really badly and aren't asking for it. If the shame is too great for them to voice the fact that assistance is required, these are people that deserve some attention.

    Not sure if it fits your specific example, and I am in no way going to deliver an opinion on the matter. It's not in my reach nor do I have all the information, what I can say is that the saying I might be a good way for you to mull over this conundrum. If not, try viewing it from a whole other angle all together.
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    Hey! That's ME! AquaFizz's Avatar
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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    It's a tough call. Who are we to decide who's capable of helping themselves and who isn't? For example, things like OCD and depression are hard to overcome.

    My grandmother is a lot like your aunt. My grandfather died when she was 64 and has been dead for over 20 years. She's been miserable the entire time. It's hard to not get fed up with her. But, I also understand that she came from a time when women didn't push themselves to try to be outgoing and that she is a genuinely shy woman who never had to be outgoing because she was always with my grandfather or surrounded by family. I think if she could have forced herself to be a little more outgoing, she'd've been a lot happier. It just wasn't easy for her. Plus, she just really misses my grandfather. I can understand. I only knew him for the first six years of my life, but I was so attached to him during that time that when things get really awful, it suddenly feels ten times worse because I don't have my papaw to ask for advice. Ridiculous, I know.

    Then there are cases like my aunt and uncle. My uncle is a "pastor" who never gets hired and keeps, instead of getting a job, going to school for things that aren't going to help him land a job pastoring or doing anything else. They reply entirely on my aunt's retirement. They're forever about to lose the house, always mooching off my grandmother (who has a tiny, fixed income), or asking the church for help with something. And yet, they're constantly buying the latest christian CD or DVD, constantly loading up in their car and heading off to some stupid conference. If my parents' car breaks down, it sits at the shop for months until they've scrounged up the money to pay for it. If my aunt & uncle's car breaks down, the church scrounges up the money and it's out a week later. It's the perpetual, "It's all in God's hands" attitude that somehow works for them and yet infuriates me because...seriously, take care of yourself and, also, why aren't my parents ever "in his hands?"

    I guess what I'm saying is: Whether I roll my eyes at someone "in need" or offer to help them is largely based on who the person is or what the problem is. I will overdraft my account to make sure my friends' kids are properly spoiled at birthdays and Christmases, help heave a woman's stroller up a million flights of stairs when the subway escalator is broken..again, and do anything possible to make things easier for people in wheelchairs. Keeper could murder just about anyone and I'd say, "You don't know wtf you put him through in that war!" But a random guy who's back-story I don't know can slap a woman once and I'll hate him for eternity.

    I rarely immediately regret a decision to sympathize or not. When I do, it usually involves driving and old people. I feel incredibly awful when I blast my horn at someone and then realize it's someone's mamaw or papaw. I can, however, say I regret my prior lack-of-sympathy in some cases. Like deciding skanky girls deserved to be raped. WTF was I thinking during that phase? Which, I think, means I'll probably regret plenty of my current sympathies or lack thereof at some point, too.
    A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.

    Oh. About that...

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    Mistress of Shadows High House Moon night faerie's Avatar
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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    ok for one thing, I'm talking about sympathy, your own feelings, I'm not talking about helping people specifically, maybe just like, listening to someone's woes without mentally going, 'OMG she's such a whiny b$*% and it's her own fault she's in this mess."

    My aunt is a miserable person by her own choice. She has no desire to be happy without her husband. While I would not make the same choice, I feel terrible for her. I try to drop her an email now and then, small gestures of mean a lot to her, she's always absurdly grateful just to know someone's thinking of her. She's never asked for anything from anyone, she just moved to a small house in the middle of the desert, she really just wants to curl up & die already. It's just when my mom talks to me about her it's with a lot of scorn and impatience. They only talk every month or two it's not like she has to hear her whine every day. Neither of them have any other family, I don't know, I feel bad for her. She is ashamed of who she has become, but she's fallen so deeply into depression and really has no desire to come out of it without her husband.

    My uncle also never asked for anything, he was like Joe Pesci if you can imagine, this tiny toughguy. My uncle was who he was, I don't think he could ever have overcome it. It is especially this that makes me feel like my mom was cruel in her dismissal of him. He was an old man with no close family who watched all his friends die before him. I could have visited him once or twice a year, I was the only one in NY left for him and I left him out to dry the last few years of his life in the home. There's no doubt for me in his situation that I dropped the ball.

    (too tired, starting to forget my point, err... to be cont'd)
    Last edited by night faerie; October 23rd, 2012 at 21:16.

    "...just an idle doodle in the margins of our minds ..."
    ...nf

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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by night faerie View Post
    ok for one thing, I'm talking about sympathy, your own feelings, I'm not talking about helping people specifically, maybe just like, listening to someone's woes without mentally going, 'OMG she's such a whiny b$*% and it's her own fault she's in this mess."

    My aunt is a miserable person by her own choice. She has no desire to be happy without her husband. While I would not make the same choice, I feel terrible for her. I try to drop her an email now and then, small gestures of mean a lot to her, she's always absurdly grateful just to know someone's thinking of her. She's never asked for anything from anyone, she just moved to a small house in the middle of the desert, she really just wants to curl up & die already. It's just when my mom talks to me about her it's with a lot of scorn and impatience. They only talk every month or two it's not like she has to hear her whine every day. Neither of them have any other family, I don't know, I feel bad for her. She is ashamed of who she has become, but she's fallen so deeply into depression and really has no desire to come out of it without her husband.

    (too tired, starting to forget my point, err... to be cont'd)
    No. Well, you might be tired, but I did also get off on a tangent...no doubt helping you forget your point.

    My mom gets like that about my grandmother sometimes. And most of my cousins rarely call or come to visit her. They'll say it's because they're busy, but when prodded or when it's mentioned to my aunt, it's always brought out that they just don't like dealing with my grandmother's moping and her sulking that they don't come to visit. And I get it. If every time I showed up all I heard was how I never come visit, I'd probably get tired of the guilt trip, too. But she's 88 years old. She's their grandmother and, when she was happy, she spoiled them rotten with love and grandma-things. You don't just turn your back on that when things get rough. I feel bad for her, that she can't understand what it is she does that makes them pull away...and I feel bad that she's alone so much. I can honestly say I can listen to her and I may from time to time think, "Okay. You brought that one on yourself." But in the long run, she's just a lonely old lady and no amount of whining could ever keep me away from her and it breaks my heart to see how the rest of the kids treat her. I've told them all off more than once.

    Then, again. One of my best friends, Stef, is suffering from depression. She tried one medicine and had awful side effects. She tried another one and it gave her some stomach issues and made it hard for her to sleep. So after a week she's nixed that one, too. She's decided that NO medicine will work (despite the dozens of other worth a try) and she's done. That just annoys me. She starts whining and I tune out.

    Is that what you meant, or am I still missing the point?
    A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.

    Oh. About that...

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    ~sigh~ High House Dawn Buck's Avatar
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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    Since they are siblings, I'd say that dynamic is heavily influenced by how they grew up together. Any information on how they got along as kids, or how your grandparents treated them, would be a clue into why your mother is so dismissive of her. Or it might be an event that happened later that triggered some sort of scorn.

    It really is funny thinking about how you treat family vs how you treat acquaintances, friends, or partners. You have a lot of control over who you include in your life, save for blood and that tends to sour the milk all on its own. Sprinkle in some deep rooted childhood animosity, and there you go. I can tell you that my sister and myself definitely do not have a good relationship, and our upbringing and childhood dynamic is definitely a factor.

    Try talking out with your mom about her childhood, parent/child dynamics, and whatnot without bringing her sister into the conversation and see what you can discern about what may be influencing these feelings your mom has for her sister.

    That is, ... IF you want to play the detective.
    *leaves a pair of spectacles and a pocket sized writing book*
    I wanna be like a goose and fly to new orleans for the winter and to canada for the summer.

    Gaidin to Amelia. She is the bomb. And the keeper of satan's nose. Acually, all I have now is her right nostril...

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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    I really believe that saying "But for the grace of God go I." No one really knows how they would handle someone elses life, or brain for that matter. =) So its best not to judge what people deserve.

    I think its best to assess what little things you can do for a person, and forget about the big stuff. I mean, acknowledge you probably can't save them from themselves, but also acknowledge there is nothing wrong with alleviating a persons suffering, whether or not they deserve it, and whether or not they are grateful. That is a worthwhile act in and of itself. It's good for both of you.

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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    I'd agree with DF. I think that there's something really rewarding when you do something nice for someone who may or may not deserve it (like a phone call out of the blue, or going out of the way to share baked goods with someone jerky at the office) and when it's appreciated, it's like contagious happiness. When it goes unnoticed, well, at least I get the satisfaction of knowing I tried. I try to think of it less in terms of "it's the other person's choice, I have no sympathy for them", but in more selfish terms of "I'm going to feel like a jerk if I ignore that person's idiotic suffering". Of course, there might be some residual Catholic guilt tied up in that - I feel guilty about other people's actions.

    While I frequently tend to try to write off what I might feel is an obligation to someone else by recognizing that it's nothing to do with me, I can't help, and anyway, they did it to themselves, it doesn't make me (personally) feel any better to think that way, and I start to feel like maybe it's just an excuse I'm telling myself to relieve the perceived obligation. Again though, I have a tendency to think that the sun rises and sets on me and that therefore I'm responsible for everyone's problems and for solving said problems. I imagine that the truth is probably somewhere in the middle - sometimes reaching out to someone who has caused their own misery can really help them, and sometimes, it's unwelcome interference, and sometimes, you really have no obligation to get involved.
    Your sense of self is defined by what you think other people think of you.

    I'm a militant Agnostic: I don't know and neither do you!

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    Default Re: Toughlove or Sympathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by night faerie View Post
    Stranger, friend or family member, are you sympathetic to people who have a difficult time/life as a result of their own choices?
    In short, yes. I know we tend to think of choices as the result of free-will or self-determination, but for me it seems as though people are rather at the mercy of their own instinctive or conditioned ways of thinking and behaving. That may be giving them too little credit, probably less than they would like - but on closer examination doesn't it seem like our lives necessarily shape our choices and preferences before we're ever able to shape our lives with the same? Or do we choose our preferences based on the results of choices that we made, which we chose, which we chose to do, which... You get my point. To put it extremely (or less extremely, I'm not sure), I find it hard to believe that any single person has ever been completely responsible for their own state of suffering, and judging them, or just excluding them from being deserving of compassion, on the basis that they possess some mythical and self-abhorring sentience that allows them to willfully fashion their own living hell without having to accede to the impossible array of external influences that would otherwise cause them to become good, happy, and magnanimous people... Now that to me is unreasonable.

    I hear the same crappy excuses and opinions from my own family and friends from time to time, that "so and so" is past all forgiveness and sympathy because they did such and such, or never learnt their lesson, whatever. As soon as that same person begins to show some "promise" again, they change their tone completely, and become that person's most ardent supporters. I think their fickleness is amusing, but listening to them when they're down on someone is pretty frustrating.

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