Take it from someone who has lived with cancer for over 14 years – if you want to support a friend, a family member, a colleague, anybody – let go of any pity or sympathy; it is not helpful but rather harmful.
There is a way you can truly care and support, more on that later, but first let’s have a closer look at sympathy.
I used to think that sympathy was a good and wanted expression. When you are sick, or something challenging, difficult or ‘bad’ happens to you, you get sympathy from family, friends, or anybody who knows about it. There might be words of pity like “Oh you poor thing”, or of sympathy like “I am so sorry to hear that”, or “Gosh, that is bad news”, or “That must be very difficult” and so on.
Just recently I experienced the damaging effects of sympathy.
The breast cancer I have lived with since 2002 had metastasised and I was just out of hospital where I had lung surgery and my life expectancy seemed dramatically shortened.
I participated the following week in a 5-day retreat with about 300 people, although I slept part of the time and rested a lot in my beanbag; every day I saw many of the other participants, most of them known to me.
I experienced the effects of sympathy on my body loud and clear. I noticed how some people who knew about my last surgery came to me with an energy that was quite uncomfortable. Many seemed to know and I have to admit that in the beginning I quite enjoyed the attention and acknowledgment I received.
But by the end of the day I felt physically sick, and that not from the surgery. It took me a while, but after sharing with a good friend who looked after me, I realised that I had taken all that sympathetic energy into my body and it felt awful. I felt it already when it came towards me, but because I was still under the belief that I can’t feel energy much, I was not aware of it.
My body having already enough to deal with – and to heal I had to stop the effect of the sympathy – by this time I had been very much cured of enjoying it as attention. But what could I do? How could I stop people from approaching me with sympathy? I still did not trust my ability to feel energy instantly.
The next day I learnt immediately that I DO feel energy and I was surprised how clearly.
I could feel when somebody was walking towards me if they came with sympathy, pity, with their own anxiousness, or just being maybe curious and interested how I was doing, out of genuine care, or maybe with an energy of duty to show that they cared but would rather not deal with it.
I noticed some people who knew me, not approaching me at all and that was fine. I would rather have that than receiving their emotions or pity. With the sympathy comes often the fear of death, which is hard for a lot of people to be confronted with.
I also learned how to stop this energy of sympathy – sometimes by just observing it and bringing understanding, and sometimes by nominating and calling it out.
But how could I tell someone that I did not want their sympathy? I found my way and it was different with different people.
With some I could say it with humour, with others straight out fact, "No sympathy please". Others I felt to expand and share how awful it feels. With some people when I said "no sympathy" they just got it, yet others were puzzled and couldn’t understand or just moved on.
One person came with a whole dose of sympathy and wanted to give me a hug. I said in a light joking way, “Only if you don’t do it with sympathy” and the energy left the person instantly. Once you tell this energy off there can be an instant, clear shift and people just snap out of it and it is not there anymore. With some people it was a relief to have it called out as they were freed from playing a role that they thought they were obliged to play.
Some did not understand –– maybe they did later.
I choose to have people around me who are normal with me and do not bring their sympathy or own stuff of anxiousness or whatever. I haven’t actually changed just because I have a serious disease – or have I? Due to the way that I am dealing with and have surrendered to understanding the disease, today I feel more open, light, joy-full, purpose-full.
I feel more committed to life and serving humanity more than ever before, from the simple things like learning to speak the truth in each moment, to supporting people to stop fearing death.
Having had a dear friend, Judith McIntyre, pass not long ago, I have seen that there is another way to pass over gracefully – without suffering, misery and sadness. Death is a natural process we all will go through; there is no need to make it as difficult as society makes it today. But in order for this to happen the community has to come together and start truly caring for each other – and true care can only happen without sympathy.
Sympathy feeds victimhood, feeds a person to feel sorry for themselves and to not take responsibility – it can also affect their ability to surrender. It can either feed ‘staying a victim’ or cause ‘becoming a victim’. Sympathy does not feel straightforward ... people want to be nice but behind it there is all the person’s unresolved stuff – their pity, their anxiety and past hurts.
I have been saying to a close friend of mine for years “No pity please” and I feel it is finally sinking in and my friend is getting it because I say it each time I feel it.
Out of sympathy some people hold back like they don’t want to call you out on something. Or a friend of mine needed to clear something with me but held back because he did not want to bother me. I felt it and when I asked him we could clear it in a couple of minutes and had a deeply felt hug.
Real care and interest is ok and welcomed, but does not come with sympathy.
I am not blaming God and the whole world anymore for whatever is happening in my life. I take full responsibility for my situation and what happens. I understand that everything is a result of my previous choices and therefore is my responsibility. And everything that unfolds is a great opportunity to learn and evolve back to who I really am and where I come from – from the Divine.
This is not to say that I won’t need care and specific support, especially later on when my health really deteriorates, but that support can come with normal relating. I don’t want people to treat me differently or to treat me with kid gloves.
True care can come without sympathy and in fact, sympathy sabotages the care that someone may have the intention of bringing.
People seem to mix up Love and Sympathy. When people bring sympathy they often think they are being loving but sympathy feels very different when you are on the receiving end of it, both energetically and physically. When people say they ‘like’ sympathy what they really like is the attention, like I did in the beginning, but when you feel the quality of the attention it doesn’t feel great at all and it can actually be felt in the body.
When people are really sick and in the process of passing I am sure that a lot of people feel sympathy’s harming effects but they don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to upset people – especially family and friends.
To truly care and support, you need to come without your emotions and your own ‘stuff’. It is very loving but does not come with ‘you poor thing’ or any energy like that. Over the years of living with cancer I had huge support from Serge Benhayon and other practitioners at the Universal Medicine Clinic. I have never experienced Serge sympathetic, never an ounce or even a milligram of pity, but being very tender, loving, clear, giving generously of his healings, wisdom and readings.
I had a beautiful experience the other day of true support without any sympathy. All morning I had been frazzled and close to tears, with no idea about why or what. My hormone medication can cause that sometimes. I was with a group of people and at one point I just allowed the tears to come out a bit. Holding them back I felt I was hardening and not wanting to connect with people, my body was contracting. A friend saw the first tears and asked if I was ok. “No, I am not” I said. He gave me a big hug and I melted and let the tears freely flow.
At first the tears felt like a natural release but at a certain point I became aware that I was slipping into a story around my crying, I was starting to go into sympathy with myself and become emotional. It felt awful and I chose to not go there. After that the tears naturally ran out and I had a wonderful day after that, feeling back with myself. The true support I received without sympathy allowed me to ensure I didn’t go into sympathy myself.
How blessed I am to have a community that will care and look after me lovingly and tenderly. This is something everybody deserves – just like the love, tenderness and care we give to newborns, we need to give this same love to people who are dying.
At each stage of life we are worthy of receiving true love and support – and to do this we need to knock out sympathy and embrace responsibility.