You are not alone

Image credit: You’re Not Alone by nouspique, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

“You are not alone.”

Sometimes I think those are the most powerful words a hurting person can hear. This simple expression of support from someone who is willing to come alongside and sit with a person in pain is invaluable. It’s an even richer gift when the words come from someone who has experienced a similar hurt or situation or challenge. There’s something about knowing that we are not the first person to feel a certain way is a powerful reassurance.

For example, I love to read the stories of others who have experienced depression because it assures me that I am not the only one to have struggled with that black beast. When I find in others’ stories similar experiences, it brings the comfort of knowing that I’m not alone. While my depression may be unique to me in its particulars, I am not the only one to go through this.

During a time a deep grief, I remember being reassured to learn that other grieving people also experience extreme exhaustion. I wasn’t alone in this, and discovering that the  exhaustion I was feeling was a normal part of grief was a comfort.

Likewise, I’m not alone in experiencing the world as an INFJ (Myers-Briggs personality type), or as a writer who sometimes struggles to write, or as someone who came out late in life, or as a person who has struggled with questions about her faith. In every case, finding others that have experienced similar challenges or circumstances has been a reassurance to me that I’m not the only one.

There is such encouragement in knowing I’m not alone, such reassurance in hearing someone else say, “me too.”

I have had the opportunity to see this dynamic played out a number of times lately in a virtual community that I belong to. Person after person finds this community and is so encouraged by finding others who are on a similar journey. You can hear the relief of discovering they are not alone as they encounter others expressing similar experiences.

Similarly, as this group has bonded over time, we have shared in one another’s heartaches of all kinds. People from all over meet the member who is hurting with support and presence, letting them know that they are not alone in whatever they face. The group is large enough that often there are people who have experienced similar griefs and losses and can offer that sympathetic solidarity that comes with the assurance that they are not the only ones to undergo this kind of trial.

This does not negate the fact that all of our life experiences are unique. My grief will never be the same as another person’s grief. My struggles will never be an exact echo of someone else’s, no matter how similar the circumstances. My answers will never fit another, as your answers will never perfectly fit me. I am not saying that we can overlay our experiences on someone else. Each person must find their own way and their own answers, but we can keep each other company on that journey—not as teachers or fixers or guides, just as companions on the way.

I’m increasingly convinced that the only thing I really need to communicate to hurting people I encounter is that they are not alone. Whether that means that I am simply willing to sit with them through the hard time or whether I can offer the deeper assurance that comes from shared experience, I don’t need to fix anything, I don’t need to have the answers, and I don’t need to try to make it all better.  I just need to be present with them so that they know are not alone.

After all, that’s all we can ever really do for one another.

Do you agree? Do you also find comfort in knowing that you are not alone?

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  1. I agree. Situations often can’t be “fixed,” but relationships can heal us (and that’s a mutual/everyone-involved kind of healing) in so many other ways!

    1. Oooh! “Mutual/everyone-involved kind of healing” – I love that! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’ll be sharing this Kenetha. Just love your writing style and the message of mutual acceptance and compassion. I believe there IS a risk inherent in some support groups, in that people can get addicted to the “woundology”. It can be tricky to recognize the line and I think you’ve done a wonderful job of presenting community support in a positive light!

    1. Thank you sharing and for commenting, Sue. I agree that there is a risk in any support group of getting addicted to the “woundology.” I’ve even seen this happen with friendships that were formed around a common wounding. It’s a tricky line, but I do think it is possible to stay on the positive side of that line … especially when we are aware of the danger. Thanks for raising that issue, and I’m glad that I was able to present the idea of community support in a way that didn’t venture into that dangerous territory!

  3. I agree that knowing one is not alone is important. However, simply finding identification with those who have similar troubles is not enough. There is potential for support groups, etc, to turn from “poor me” to “poor us”. We need to seek the company of those who are making positive changes in their lives, and also offer our company to those we may be able to inspire.

    1. Great point, Kris! When I wrote this, I was thinking less about support groups and more about learning to say “you’re not alone” in personal relationships without moving on to offering advice or fixing. However, I do agree that when we are the ones hurting/struggling, it’s important to seek the company of people who are actively working toward healing and positive change to avoid the “poor us” trap. Thanks for visiting, and thanks pointing that out!

  4. Wonderful post as always, Kenetha, for we can always listen, which is how I read this post. Demonstrating to people that we hear what they are saying lets them know they are never alone, and really, they are not. As you say, there is no need to fix or even advise but just to let the person know that you are hearing them. This one made my heart smile, and thank you for that.

    1. Real listening (without judgment) is so powerful, isn’t it? Thank you so much for this thoughtful and kind comment. It makes me so happy to know that my words made your heart smile. Blessings to you!

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