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Why I’m Trying to be Kinder and Gentler with Others and Myself

By now I’m sure y’all are about as fed up with being given unsolicited advice as I am. That said, there is an upside: It gives me a chance to draw a bead on what I dislike about it and how much advice-giving I’ve been engaging in, too. Always open to self-improvement, I’ve become more aware of my own insufferable speeches in a new way. This has led to a major overhaul in what I choose to say to people now. For example, I used to advise MS patients to seek counseling for various issues. I don’t do that anymore. Now it just sounds arrogant and patronizing.

My own bad experiences

Moreover, I squirm whenever people say it to me as if I’ve never thought to try it. The fact is that I’ve had bad experiences with therapy ranging from annoying to toxic and destructive. Therapists come in all stripes and aren’t necessarily very skilled at determining what we need. They might listen then set us straight as a way to fill a perceived gap in the story we tell about ourselves. At best, it’s self-congratulatory. At worst it’s ultimately dismissive and manipulative and encourages me to either clam up or lash out.

Any one of us can fall into an ego trip and convince ourselves that we are superior in our insights and it is our special calling to set the world straight one person at a time. But when a therapist does it that is a special problem. A licensed counselor has measurable power, partly in the form of credentials tacked onto their names. We see the diplomas and certificates on the wall and trust that they have our best interest at heart. But that has never been the case in my experience, as I expressed in an article titled My Misadventures in Psych Counseling. These people were judgy and narcissistic, driving an Army tank over my feelings and then planting a flag between my ribs as one more conquest, much like in the iconic photo of our victory on Iwo Jima but without the sacrifice, fear, and pain our troops suffered to take that hill. I never once met a therapist who earned the privilege of planting that sharp stick in my flesh.

Arrogance

But it’s not just therapists that buy a cabin on the Good Ship Arrogance. Advocates can book passage, too, as I have done more than once. And we all have stories about doctors who give us the requisite ten minutes, misjudge and dismiss us and send us away to begin again. The reasons are many. For example, they’re pressured by the bean counters to treat us as if we’re cattle, but without Temple Grandin’s hugging machine to soothe us on the way to utter—or udder, if we’re female–indifference. Or, to switch the metaphor from bovine to ovine, the nurse who, like a medical Judas goat, greases the wheels by first asking us, the sheep, four thousand questions about ourselves. It’s flattering at first—until we realize that she’s typing into a template of our Electronic Health Record—another thing they do for the bean counters. They are too busy to actually read it to prepare for our next appointment.

It’s just business, Kimberly, it’s not personal. Or as someone once told me, it’s capitalism. As though that label makes it okay. I’ve actually responded to that meme over the years in corporate environments by stating: It’s very personal. You’re interacting with people, not paper cutouts. That statement always evoked a silent glower from my superior, marking me for future termination. To myself I added: Gosh, would it kill you to fake it, to merely act kinder and gentler?

We all could. It used to be called having good manners, but it seems that we do a lot of speech-making as a replacement for actual conversation. We are so bleeping rude to each other it’s depressing.

Trying to modify my own behavior

In response to these grousing thoughts, I can only modify my own behavior, quite a challenge when I’m in the same room with my three siblings. We’re closer to each other than ever now that we’re old, but we’re also very hard on each other as strong personalities can be, turning every phrase into an argument, talking over each other and interrupting a lot, thinking we know what the other is going to say when that really isn’t the case at all. It’s exhausting, and for the sake of my sanity, I’m trying to change. But my family role has always been to be passive and quiet and let the louder ones prevail. If I become a better listener and keep my ego out of it, I’m performing a version of myself that is too much like my silence, enabling the family role-playing. I’m trying to learn something that’s much harder for me: to tactfully, calmly stand up for myself. My family role led me to become defensive and argumentative out in the world. I couldn’t be heard at home, but the outside world was just as dismissive and I rebelled. I tend to talk louder and louder until I’m screeching without even knowing it until somebody tells me. I’m still in my childhood trying to be heard above the din of my louder siblings. My dad modeled angry confrontational behavior, a trait we all possess in my family. But my siblings are trying hard to back off, too. We are, as it were, spending the remainder of our lives trying to undo what happened in our childhood.

As a family, we try to stick to safe subjects and keep it light. Avoiding politics is always a wise idea. It works out there in the world, too. We listen to each other. We’re all pretty good listeners, I’ll give us that. What we need to work on is keeping our opinions and diagnoses to ourselves and not rob the spotlight to prove how perceptive we are.

A work in progress

It’s hard not to make everything about me when I feel needy for that spotlight, the thing I was denied in my earlier family life. But I’ve found that my neediness waxes and wanes, and with it, the urge to make someone else’s issue about me. As an MS advocate, I work hard at being gentle and validating towards other patients, just as I try to do with family and friends.

For me, being kinder and gentler is a work in progress that will last a lifetime.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Iamviv
    2 months ago

    My step-Grandpa, was disabled with MS. I learned many of important lessons from him. One of the most important was to always use good manners. Whenever I was out with him, people would approach us to give a hand or open doors. Everyone got a big smile, a thank you and often a hand shake. He told me, no matter who you are dealing with, no matter what they have done, fall back on good your manners. Be a good person.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 months ago

    Amen to that, step-Grandpa! Thank you for sharing that lovely story, @iamviv. –Kim, author and moderator

  • Tazz
    2 months ago

    I hear ya sister!!!
    As someone who has genuinely become better informed than the average PwMS I too get so frustrated with those people who are convinced that they have the answer to “fixing” my MS. Of course that new diet which involves crystallised yak fat on toast (with a garnish of dried kidney from a rhesus monkey) is the answer I’ve been waiting for since my diagnosis (not). And those medical “professionals” who actually know a whole lot less about my MS than I do but still talk to me as if I’m a half-wit will drive me to insanity.

    The thing that I need to keep reminding myself of as I see the utter BS that gets touted on so many sites as being “the answer” which will fix, heal, or cure your MS is that it is NOT MY JOB to save people from themselves – but is is sometimes soooo hard to keep my mouth shut (or more accurately – my keyboard still) when I see newly diagnosed people who are insecure and frightened being led astray down paths of unsubstantiated utter garbage. The cyber-world of chronic illness (and I mean more than just MS) is over populated with glossy slick looking websites which lead people to believe that whatever philosophy or “protocol” they are peddling is legitimate, and it’s beyond my capacity to counter this, no matter how hard I might try. So, while my efforts are not driven by arrogance, but a genuine desire to stop people from “self-harming” through getting sucked in by such rubbish, I just have to keep telling myself to get back in my box and stop trying to save the world. It’s time the world started to learn to be more discriminating and look out for itself.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    2 months ago

    @tazz! Love your thoughts, especially the last two lines. They perfectly describe what can split us in half: a desire to inform and the realization that the world does as it pleases despite our good intentions.

    I’m glad you addressed the snake oil salesmen that have been with us since the days of covered wagons. Heck, it’s natural for people to get innovative, create a product and try to make a living selling it, but duping the public always seems to ride the coattails of entrepreneurship. In the end, it’s on us to smell a rat when it’s in the room.

    Thank you so much for posting your thoughts! Hope to hear from you again very soon. –Kim, author and moderator

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