Why Hearing You Say: “It Could Be Worse” Makes Me Want to Punch You In The Throat…
(Or: How Your Lack of Empathy Makes Those Around You More Angry & Less Resilient)
When I bring a problem to my boss and ask for help solving it that means that I have exhausted my capacity to deal with the problem on my own. For Type A (BIG ‘A!’) personalities like me, it is difficult to just begin this conversation because somewhere deep in my soul I believe I should be able to do anything, at anytime, all by myself. (NOTE: This isn’t particularly healthy, I know this, and I’m working on it)
Therefore, when your response is:
“Well, It could be worse!” <With a great big smile on your face>
What I hear is: “Your problems aren’t important enough for me to care about and you should just stop complaining.”
And now I will probably do one or both of these two things:
- Clench my fists because I really, really want to punch you in the throat.
- Take a deep breath because I feel like you just kicked me in the stomach, walk away, and never talk to you about anything important to me again (work-related or not).
Neither of these things is helpful!
Both drive divisiveness and disconnect us from one another. You have now put me into a place where the emotional part of my brain, instead of the rational part of my brain is dictating my actions. Additionally, but importantly, whatever problem I was trying to solve is still a problem. My likelihood of making a good decision or solving the problem at hand just plummeted. I am also more likely to hold information close until “it’s solved” rather than share information. This removes people from the problem-solving process and reduces our effectiveness as a team.
I’m also, likely, less resilient.
There is a lot of discussion these days around resiliency, especially in the military, and especially as resiliency is related to suicide prevention. For the uninitiated:
noun re·sil·ience \ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ (1) the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens. (2) the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
I applaud these programs.
They are essential to maintaining a healthy force.
The U.S. armed forces are high-stress, high-stakes organizations. Individual members routinely subordinate their desires, their needs, and the needs of their families in order to accomplish the mission. Failure is never seen as a viable alternative. This is why, when seemingly insurmountable obstacles appear, strategies for dealing with the resulting emotions are essential.
The reason people forge such tight bonds in the military is because the people you serve with are people who you have struggled with. You have relied on them. They have relied on you. Together you have faced some of the most stressful and challenging times of your lives. That’s the most vulnerable you can be. They come through for you, and you come through for them… that is one of the deepest connections people can make.
These connections should be honored. We must be supportive and empathetic towards one another in the midst of difficult circumstances or following a trauma. These circumstances allow us to become more resilient, to learn from and gain something positive from a difficult experience together. To form deeper connections.
When these connections are not honored is when things go off the rails.
If I can look at a situation, tell myself:
“It could be worse, this is what we can do instead.”
That’s fine. That’s resiliency.
If I look at a situation and am completely stumped and frustrated and I go to you seeking help and you tell me:
“It could be worse” without offering any help or suggestions on new approaches?
That’s when you go on my list for “Throat Punch Thursday” (and that doesn’t help anyone).
[NOTE: Post-Traumatic Stress is REAL. Resiliency programs give you tools, but people who are struggling to cope with traumatic experiences should seek out an experienced medical professional.]