This bothers me: when people describe to me a problem they are having, I try either to analyze why the problem exists or to help them find a solution. Then I overhear someone else say the kind, compassionate things I should have said, and I kick myself up and down the stairs the rest of the day.
Really, I want to be kind and compassionate. I hunt for the right words to say and apologize when I don’t find them. No doubt part of my problem is a Mastermind (INT-J) personality which is automatically analytical and problem-solving even when other people do not want that kind of response. I want to be classy like John Steed, but always I end up as Mr. Spock instead.
The reason this bothers me is that, when I am being the analytical Mr. Spock, other people get the impression that I don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth! I would not be analyzing their problem if I did not care. To me it seems like I am reaching out with a helping hand, but to them it feels as if I am building a wall between us.
Whenever this has happened, I feel disappointed in myself. Understand that, in my household when I was growing up, “disappointed” was a code word for strong disapproval. In some ways, hearing Mom or Dad say, “I’m disappointed with you” was a worse punishment than being spanked or sent to my room. So when I say that I am disappointed with myself, I really mean that I am very angry at myself.
At the same time, I am very sensitive to the people around me. If someone is having a bad day, my first reaction is to blame myself. The other person might be fighting off a cold, or getting over a morning argument with a spouse, or focusing attention on a project, but part of my brain is asking the rest of my brain, “What did I do that was wrong?” I’ve been like this as long as I can remember. As a result, I have learned to ignore that feeling, the same way I ignore the feeling that I’ve forgotten something important each and every time I leave the house.
This probably means that at times I miss a chance to apologize when I should apologize. Or I miss a chance to say a kind word to someone who needs a kind word, apart from the fact that their problem is not my fault. Failing to say the right thing, though, bothers me less than saying the wrong thing. I cannot seem to remember that generally people want sympathy and support more than they want solutions.
Some people say that this is a male/female divide in western culture. They say that women talk about their problems to receive emotional support, while men talk about their problems to find solutions. Therefore, when a man hears a problem described, he looks for a solution; when a woman hears a problem described, she offers emotional support. That description is simplistic, of course, although it may contain some elements of truth. In the end, though, it seems more like a stereotype than a helpful explanation.
But, there I go again. Even dealing with my own feelings, I am looking for explanations and solutions. I am asking how I can change myself so I can offer support and sympathy and not be the analytical Spock who doesn’t help at all. At this point, I am who I am, analytical mind and all.