Sympathy Can Be Addictive

Sympathy Can Be Addictive


“If you’re looking for sympathy you’ll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.” 
― David Sedaris, Barrel Fever

Once upon a time, I hung out with a shaman. 
He was my own personal “pocket shaman.”
He went everywhere with me, and helped me through all the wild things that were happening back then, with his wild eyed magic, his herbs and teas and his amazing energy work.
I was NOT having a good time with my spiritual awakening. I was a sick, whining, complaining, crying, hot mess.

He did love me, so he was somewhat indulgent. But he was so much further along on the spiritual path than I was at that time, that after awhile, he wouldn’t tolerate my behavior.
He would not continue to hear my complaints, no matter how valid. He could not bring himself to listen to my stories of victim hood for one. more. second.
He would just turn and leave the room…….while I was in mid sentence.
With my head in my hands, weeping, I’d beg for his advise about a situation that was causing me intense emotional pain, and his response would be: “We’ve discussed this, you know what I think you should do, I’m not talking about this again with you.”
WTF?! “Don’t you want to help me?”
“I’m not helping you by continuing to talk about it. If you want to stay there, if you want to summon a co-complainer, someone who will join you at your pity party, go call a girlfriend.”

I started to hate him. (I don’t want to say hate….. but I’m being honest here). 
I remember screaming at him to listen to me.
“You’re NOT my friend, you DON’T love me!”
“I DO love you! but you’re right, I’m not your friend, I’m your teacher, I’m here to help you. I will not come join you in your pain. A true friend would not keep you in this misery”
I remember slugging him hard in the arm as he turned and walked away.
Not my proudest moment.

“It is terribly rude to tell people that their troubles are boring.” 
― Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

My friend Wes is similar. He wouldn’t commiserate with me when both my cats were killed by coyotes within a week of each other, and it almost ended our friendship. He just wouldn’t go there. He listened with compassion, when I cried about it in the beginning; but he wouldn’t indulge my need to keep talking about it, and stay in the “why” of it. He would get quiet, make a joke, or change the subject all together.
God, that was annoying.
He did it again when my business went south. I remember being at dinner with him and feeling so hurt and angry, because he seemed bored with my plight. He listened, but he wouldn’t engage. It was so freaking frustrating; like standing at the net with my racket and my opponent won’t return my serve.
Over and over and over again.
The rage inside felt familiar; very similar to what I had felt toward my shaman friend years before. I had to restrain myself from hurling my body across the table and stabbing him in the neck with a fork.
Note to self: I am a pacifist ONLY if you indulge me, by listening to endless hours of my sad, sucky stories.

Staying in wounded victimhood has it’s own special high. With all the words of encouragement and people trying to help, it keeps you from having to stand on your own two feet, move forward, and take some responsibility.
Sympathy can be addictive.

Here’s the thing. They both loved me a ton, and they reacted in the most loving way possible. They wouldn’t stand with me in the energy of my pain for any longer than necessary. It’s a kind of spiritual “tough love.” I get that now.
And they did it at their peril. I felt abandoned and betrayed, and I lashed out accordingly. I strung together tirades of four letter words that would have made a drill sergeant blush, and there were long periods of time where I didn’t see either of them. I wasn’t ready to move on. I wanted to beat the dead horse and then some.
They would not meet me there. They stood in the place of my healing, of my wholeness, not my woundedness……….and they waited for me there.
It took awhile to join them, but eventually, I did.

I want to caution you: Please, Don’t try this at home. It may not go well. People want a shoulder to cry on, and if you take that away; they may punch you.
Be advised, there will be hurt feelings. But it IS the more loving act.
Maybe someone is loving you this way right now.
Food for thought.
Carry on.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear ’em.


  • Shawn says:

    Nice inspirational post.I was down for some days and your post helped me to overcome this.Thanks a lot.God bless you.

    • jbertolus says:

      Thank you Shawn so much! You made MY day! I write these from my heart, hoping they touch people. So, I accept your blessing and I send one right back to you.
      With love,

My version of life. My stories. Told in my own words.

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