The story of who I am consists of a chapter about how I just don't tune into other people's feelings and emotions. Although I have played along with this with many of my friends for a long time, I have recently decided that this is a load of codswallap (to coin an English phrase.)
Reason number one for the cod is that this is a relatively new chapter, one that has emerged since I moved to the U.S. There were many stories of who I was back in the U.K. but this was not one of them. So, it got me to thinking that either something drastic changed in my personality immediately after I moved to rhe U.S. (possible but unlikely), that the story was untrue, or that there was some underlying cultural factor that was leading me to be misunderstood.
After my soul-searching and self-analysis I realize that this is one of those areas in life where I have been (and continue to be) classically misunderstood.
For those of you who don't know many Brits, you don't understand how people are back where I was brought up. The expression "chin-up" is the best way to begin: when a friend or family member is going through a rough time, it's generally accepted that you bitch along with them to a certain extent and then tell them that it will all turn out alright in the end. Support is considered to be bolstering one's friends' outlook on the problem, not wallowing in the mud with them. We're a nation of eternal optimism underneath our grouching. Nobody expects much sympathy or empathy; people get on with it because they know there really is little else choice. A good friend "snaps you out of it".
This doesn't translate to the U.S.
When trying to deliver the same friendly support in the U.S., it's interpreted as insensitive. People out here want empathy, they want sympathy, they want you to emotionally connect with their feelings, their problem, they want you to cry along with them. In short: they want you to be their own personal Oprah.
Don't get me wrong, I am not downplaying the importance of empathy or sympathy or judging the American psyche negatively here, just pointing out a major difference and trying to explain that this is not what I was brought up to do. It's not what my culture does. It's not in my DNA.
But, does it mean I'm insensitive or that I can't tune into other people's emotions? NO. IT. DOES. NOT.
An experience with a good friend in the last few years taught me this lesson that I have only recently been able to see with clarity, in hindsight. I thought I was being supportive at a difficult time in every way I knew how. She thought I was being insensitive and expecting too much of her (as if my "chin up" attitude were a critique on her emotionality.) The reality was that I was being supportive but in the way I knew how, just not the way she wanted me to be.
Of course, there are lessons for me to learn here about how to look at people as individuals and try to understand what they need from me as opposed to using a cookie-cutter approach for each friend or loved-one in my life. BUT there are also lessons to be learned on the other side of the equation and, some experiences of my own in the last two weeks have made me realize this acutely: Just because someone does not give you exactly the kind of support you want in your time of need, it does not mean that they do not care. The "understanding the other person" equation is not a one-way street. Sometimes, when you feel someone doesn't understand or "get" you, it could be just as true that you are not understanding or "gettting" them.
Anyone who has known me intimately for any length of time knows that I am generally thoughtful, loving, and loyal as a friend or family member. Yes, I am also frank-speaking, sometimes tactless, and often put my foot in my mouth but we're talking about the difference between intention and action here. The people closest to me, I am confident, would say that I am insightful into other's motives and personalities and that I understand (and empathize with) far more than people expect of me on the surface. (If you don't think this then I'm open to hearing about it but suggest that perhaps you haven't taken the time to know me the way you expect to be known yourself.) How this comes out, how I embody this, may, however, be different to what's expected in the U.S.
I take that onboard and I look to find ways to be a better friend, wife, and family-member every day. BUT, I still say phooey to the story that I am not sensitive or tuned into other people's emotions. I am re-writing this story. If you have been a contributer to my narrative, wipe this slate clean.