Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another person's shoes

I was reading a step mother's blog today and it actually sparked an interesting debate. In a nutshell it was based on how YOU would feel if you were in the "bio" moms shoes. Although I believe both sides have some valid arguements in the end I try to have empathy and compassion. Here is what I mean...

As a nurse in a busy emergency department (in a poor/bad part of town) I saw on a daily basis people who made poor choices. Sometimes these people would make these choices 3, 4, 5 times in a day or week. At first, you try and help...offer your advice (where appropriate) and have sympathy for their situation. After so many visits and the continuance of poor choices that person makes, you start to have less and less sympathy for them. You start to see how they are a product of their poor choices and they almost "deserve" what they get. It becomes harder and harder to empathize with someone when they continually make poor choices that lead to even worse outcomes.

I became very jaded and (in order to continually see patients) needed to emotionally remove myself from the poor choices and sympathizing that I had for these people. It became very tiresome to want so bad to help and yet all efforts seem for not. I believe that the same sort of situation can happen with being a step mom or bio mom. You see how someone's poor choices affect others (mainly the ones you love) and it is hard to see how/why those choices are made.

After taking some time away from the ER I have done a lot of reflecting. I still work along side of the ER so I see the same stories and situations that I did before except I now have the empathy and sympathy back. Here's why...

Removing myself from the situation gave me the opportunity to understand my background and how I was raised versus the background and situation the population we served were raised. It was quite different. I don't believe people try to make poor choices but rather sometimes that is all they know. Maybe they were raised where the parents were not home or did not show the children love and support. Maybe they were abandoned and left to grow up alone. Maybe all they saw when dealing with a situation was violence. I was raised in a loving home where we made mistakes but we were shown why it was a mistake and what to learn from it.

It was hard for me to figure out that not everyone had that upbringing. Not everyone shared my values and beliefs. Not everyone had someone to turn to when they didn't know what to do. Not everyone had a support system in place. Please do not get me wrong, I do not believe that because of someone's background it is an "excuse" for how and why they live their life, it is more that they did not have the teaching early on about making good choices.

Sometimes people have a great upbringing but still make poor choices, then what???? These situations are harder. Harder to try and understand. Case in point...a battered woman, who stays in a relationship, even after being beaten multiple times...sometimes just short of her life.

Then what? She goes back.

Why, you ask? Why don't you leave?

From my experience (and what I have had people tell me)...fear, money, support, and fear of isolation are reasons to stay. This is a very hard situation. I don't believe in anyway that these women (and sometimes men) don't deserve my empathy and sympathy even when they repeatedly make the choice to go back. Only they can know what their situation is. Only they know when and how they can leave.

I don't believe that it is easy to put yourself in someone's shoes or show empathy and sympathy to someone when they have not only made poor choices, but ones that affect you and the people you love. But in the end, if it was me, I would want someone to show me that kind of compassion and human understanding...even when I have made poor choices. Maybe then they would start making better choices based on role models of others.


simplicity said...

Well said!

I think that it's interesting to see too how some who grow up in not very good households turn out to be the opposite as well.

Mrs. H said...

Very interesting post.

I agree with all you have to say.

The only thing I would add is that showing sympathy or empathy doesn't mean that you agree with the person or choose to engage in behavior that enables that person.

In my situation, I feel bad that BM's mental state colors her decision making. In fact, it is my sympathy for her illness that allows me to deal with her on any kind of human level. But that doesn't mean that I am going to pretend that she is acting like a good person and that her decisions are justified by her mental illness. To that end, when trying to figure out how to best handle a situation, sympathy is neither an argument for behavior or against it.

It is possible to feel bad for her and angry at the same time. It is possible to feel sympathy for her without putting myself in her shoes. And honestly, I think it is more fair to judge how she feels based on her experiences than to project how I would feel on her.

Jill Davis Doughtie said...

What a thoughtful post.