7 Reasons Why People You Love Won’t Trust You With Their Deepest Feelings

Your heart aches. You need to tell somebody. You long to be able to reach out to those closest to you and open up. But you don’t. You bury it down. You wish you could trust that sharing yourself would be okay. You wish you could bank on it that the experience would be nourishing.

Imagine if this is someone you love and care for. What if they want to connect with you but they don’t trust the process? At some level, that must sound crazy. You love them. You care for them. You’re there for them. You want them to be able to lean on you when they need to.

But sharing is hard. When we share we leave ourselves vulnerable and open. We expose the parts of our soul that are most sensitive and shameful. To let others see us as who we are can be the scariest thing in the world. Especially when they love us. The stakes feel highest when it involves love.

School doesn’t teach us how to empathise. It teaches a whole host of stuff we’ll never need. But empathy – how to connect with a fellow person in pain – is something we don’t learn.

Our own responses to loved ones in pain can also be awkward and vulnerable. Often, we fail to give what is most needed.

The tragic result is that we lose faith in each other. We believe our pain is unworthy of others. We lock our true selves away where nobody can hurt us further, no matter how inadvertently.

Here are 7 ways that we respond to emotional pain , that doesn’t give others what they most need.

1. When you judge them

I know somebody who is afraid of tea bags. People laugh. But it’s not funny. Fear is fear. When you’re afraid of tea bags, it’s the same terror as when someone is afraid of snakes.

Sometimes people are in pain because of how they’ve behaved. They feel unhappy because they acted in ways that were different to how they’d have liked to.

Sometimes people are hurt when they believe someone has taken advantage of them. They might feel foolish for having been so open with someone. Or for having loved someone that others disapproved of.

“What did you do that for? That was stupid.”

This is not empathy. This is judgement, and it adds to the pain.

2. When you fix them

Have you ever heard someone’s pain or problem, and gone straight to the solution?

I do this more than I would like. My head moves into action right away. But people in pain need our heart, not our head. The analysis and problem solving can wait.

The issue right now is that they are in pain, and experiencing difficult emotions.

We want to help, so we try to solve their problem. We want to do something. People in need of empathy need you to be present with them, not to do something.

3. When you take responsibility for them

There have been times in my life when I’ve had things I wanted to share. They’ve been heavy, painful things.

I’ve often chosen not to share them. I’ve felt anxious that I would become someone else’s burden.

Have you ever visualised sharing yourself with someone? But you foresee them responding by taking it as “their fault.”

When we do this, we are no longer there for the other person. We switch focus to our own guilt and anxiety.

I once watched a daughter tell her mother that she was unable to share her feelings with her. When her mother asked why, she said: “Because of the effect it would have on you!”

4. When you compete with them

Two fathers are chatting about their relationships with their children.

The younger of the two men describes how he is feeling overwhelmed with the behaviour of his daughter.

His friend listens about the actions that are causing him such pain.

He responds: “That’s nothing. You should see what my Tim gets up to!”

5. When you invalidate and debate them

A friend of mine was having a difficult time recently. Her parents were selling her childhood home. She felt disturbed by a sense of loss and sadness.

She shared how she was feeling. “It’s a sad time” she concluded.

“No it’s not”, came the well intentioned response. “It’s a new dawn.”

My friend repeated her feelings that it was a sad time for her. Yet the denial kept coming back.

It sounded more like a debate. In the end, my friend gave up. She was seeking empathy, not a debating prize.

6. When you compare them to others

People have different emotional reactions to the same events. We carry our own unique baggage. We all have different pain points that life touches. We all have different fears and sensitivities.

In the story above, the “new dawn” argument was eventually backed up by evidence. Apparently, a mutual friend had had a happier response to the same situation. Good for her. But it wasn’t relevant.

I remember once sharing an anxiety, only to be told that there were people starving in Africa. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

I chatted to a senior psychotherapist a few years back. He didn’t like to compare people in this way.

“If you drink a glass of poison”, he said, “it doesn’t matter that someone else drinks six glasses. Your glass of poison will still kill you.”

7. When you interrogate them

My Nan had a great turn of phrase. Here’s something she would remark about me:

“Your problem, son, is that you want to know the ins and outs of a fart.”

My Mum says that I was one of those kids who keep asking why. To be fair, I viewed adults as all knowing. And I wanted to know stuff!

“Why?” is a great question. I still ask it. I wish more people did. But it has its place.

Nobody who needs empathy wants you to be Columbo.

“I am in a lot of pain around the cruel thing my co-worker said to me.”

“Why do you think she said that?”

That may meet your curiosity, but you’ve moved away from their pain.

What To Do Instead

Every example given has one thing in common. They all ignored the pain. Someone shared their suffering. In each instance, someone else overlooked it.

Empathy demands a total focus on the feelings.

We’ve all heard the cry of “don’t just stand there, do something!” When it comes to giving empathy, the opposite applies. “Don’t just do something, be there.”

Simply connect with whatever they feel, and the needs beneath those feelings.

In the earlier story, my friend shared her sadness about the loss of her childhood home. Debate and comparison were the response. Here is what an empathic response may sound like:

“Are you feeling sad because you have a need for continuity and familiarity in your life?”

Notice that, even though it is in the form of a question, it addresses only her feelings and the needs at the root of them.

The softness of the question allows them the space to correct you if need be. It’s not important to guess right. It’s only important to focus on the feelings.

When someone notices our feelings, we feel valued. We trust that it is safe to share more with them in the future. Human connections strengthen.

Sometimes, I can be terrible at doing empathy. My weak spots are trying to fix things, or getting curious with the why, why, why.

Yet whenever I remember to stick with their needs and feelings, giving empathy is easy to do. When I stay with what is in front of me, I remain present and connected. It reminds me how little we need in moments of pain, and how little others need from us.

As the therapist Carl Rogers once said: “When someone really hears you without passing judgement on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

2 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why People You Love Won’t Trust You With Their Deepest Feelings”

  1. Many years ago, when I first started working as a social worker, in a hostel for people with mental health problems, one resident gave me some very valuable feedback. She pointed out that I seemed to feel that I always needed to find a solution to her distress, but explained that this was not what she was looking for. All she wanted was to know that somebody understood and was prepared to share her pain with her.

    1. I love this story Malcolm. Thanks for sharing. It hits the nail on the head. When we are in pain, we need to know that others care about our pain, are prepared to share it with us, and hear us.

      If we want advice too, that will always come later. A lovely, wise story.

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