Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pity or Sympathy

Family caregivers for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's are frequently drawn to support groups and forums where they can share their experiences.

Caregiving is a lonely endeavor. For one thing it is isolating by its very nature since it requires a certain amount of confinement. It also involves a good deal of loss and grief. Pauline Boss, a university researcher, defines the loss as being ambiguous loss. In the case of Alzheimer's it means someone being physically present but emotionally and psychologically absent. Boss says her research indicates that ambiguous loss is the most stressful kind.

So a place where caregivers can just talk (or type) and listen to (or read) others doing the same thing is an especially valuable tool for fighting the isolation and grief.

Some people think that caregivers write about their experiences in an effort to solicit pity. I know that because I have read it in more than one place. Fortunately no one has ever said anything like that to me, at least to my face (or whatever the online equivalent is).

I've never really viewed pity as a particularly virtuous emotion. Somehow to me pity always involves someone assuming a superior position to an inferior. At the very least it is the non-sufferer showing pity to the sufferer. Someone who has never been homeless pities the homeless person. Someone who has never been hungry pities the starving person. Pity to me involves the idea of feeling sorry for someone but at the same time never thinking that thing, whatever it might be, could happen to me.

If we who write about our caregiving experiences wanted pity then I think we would not be attracted to those other caregivers who are doing the same things. We do want sympathy and the only place you can get sympathy is from those who understand the same experiences.

Even people who have never experienced something can by sympathetic. I think that's one reason that so many Americans are so generous. Those that give almost always are the sympathetic type it seems to me and they recognize that this disaster or that could just as easily have happened here as there.

There are people who seem unable to achieve sympathy. I think it must be terrible to have no feelings of sympathy at all.


Lori1955 said...

You are absolutely right. I would never want anyone to pity me. I share my feelings to get sympathy and understanding from those who truly know what I am going through and will help me through it. I'm glad there are people like that out there.
Hope your dad is doing well today.

nancy said...

i totally agree with what lori said. i was floored to read that some suggest that we do this for pity! i have never read that and would be angered if i did like i feel now.

i am so glad i have found others who are there to support and sympathize with me, not pity me.

glad to hear your dad was ok for you this morning.

~Betsy said...

What I am looking for isn't pity or sympathy - but empathy. I suppose that's why all of you have become so special to me.

Empathy isn't something that can be taught, in my opinion. It comes from within the heart and soul.

I have always taken great pride in my children's ability to empathize, even if they haven't lived the experience. But they have an uncanny ability to place themselves in someone else's shoes and give of themselves accordingly.

I think the world would be a better place if we all would tap into our empathetic feelings a little more.

cornbread hell said...

i admire you and your blog.
i hope you and your dad are doing well.