Finding your tribe, the people who can best support you, is not always who you think it will be .There is something about big life changes, those you are given or those you choose, which often whittle away the people who will see you through the odyssey you are setting upon.

Big changes, where as much work happens inside as out, occurs incrementally. Largely invisible, friends and sometimes family, forget. Or they are uncomfortable with the level of emotion you are experiencing. I definitely found this with grief, but as I think about it there are so many types of loss that result in grief, all of which change your perspective of the world and your place in it.

So who are eligible tribe members? Who fits this role and might be someone you can lean on?

Tribe members understand the difference between empathy and sympathy

There are markers of those able to see you through, one of them is they understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. I like Brene Brown’s definitions – “Empathy is an emotional skill and is the ability to understand and reflect back that understanding.” You are not taking on their emotion, but you can find your own experience or similarity to it and then be present for them.

I think about when a friend’s son died, losing his battle with depression. While I have not experienced this I have experienced other losses of loved ones. I was able to sit with her and allow her to cry and be okay with her doing so. There wasn’t anything I could say that was going to take away her pain, but I was willing to share it, allow her the space to feel it. I didn’t withdraw from her pain, try to make a quick get away. We sat and she talked and I listened. I didn’t try to rationalize, it is not something to make sense of, it just is.

Sympathy disconnects. Sympathy would say “That must be terrible” or “I feel sorry for you”. It can come up as comparison, in the terms of a particular loss. Such as my experience with pain and limited abilities, “Oh, I had back pain, but it wasn’t anything like yours”. I didn’t feel comforted, even though that was the intention. I felt alone. My response was, “pain is pain.”

So, your tribe. Hopefully someone in your family, although not necessarily. Perhaps a friend whom you have connected with, or perhaps a co-worker. Someone who shared some of their story with you and you can see they have grown into their lives, rather than shrunk from it.

Don’t discount a minister or member of the clergy, if you belong to an organized faith or religious community. By way of their profession, they are often great resources.

Tribe members allow you to be as you are

The key is to find a few people with whom you can be as you are. Allow you to feel what you feel, think what you think. Some will be there, in your community, but it is also possible to connect via technology. I have done that as well, and cherished all those at  various times in my life, who have seen me through difficult times.

As we approach a time when the “silver tsunami” (as doctors quietly call those of the baby boom era) face loss of all kinds, the time to talk about the tidal wave of transition is here. More and more of us will need to have a tribe. Important too, for us to become a part of someone’s tribe. Be present in your transition and once you have moved through to the other side, find the courage and compassion to extend a helping hand to others. It’s the only way, as far as I’m concerned.

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