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Why People Don’t Like Anyone Feeling Bad for Them


On the same day I was thinking about a client who always said he was fine because he “didn’t want anyone to feel bad for him,” another client said she felt very uncomfortable when people treated her with compassion and caring, especially after she messed up.

Both examples reminded me of a kindness I’ll never forget. Working as an office manager for a small non-profit in Cambridge, MA back in the 1970s, I was in charge of putting together our training flyers. One day, I inadvertently switched the dates and  facilitators’ names under the descriptions of two seminars. Imagine my horror when I saw my error in print by the thousands and realized the magnitude of what I’d done. 

Fortunately, I worked with two wonderful women who reacted to my acute distress and unending mea culpas by closing the office (it was a Friday) and taking me for a drink. Those two actions, my error and their compassion, will be forever linked in my mind, that is, the fact that they cared more about my feelings than about my mistake.

So, back to clients who feel uncomfortable when kindness and compassion are directed toward them. It may feel wrong for others to excuse what they consider inexcusable or they may feel undeserving of compassion no matter what they’re experiencing. 

If they didn’t receive understanding and compassion from parents when they were young and hurting, never mind the cause, they may distrust kindness. They may wonder why people feel sorry for them because they watched family members ignore or shame others for hurting. If so, they’d naturally come to believe that people shouldn’t feel bad for you when you’re in emotional or physical distress. Instead, they may expect punishment, blame, or rejection when they do the wrong thing or express hurt, or even be told “you shouldn’t feel bad” when you do. Therefore, they may believe they deserve no mercy and need to suffer alone in silence. 

This belief also may lead to not knowing how to react when others suffer misfortune, whether self-inflicted or not. A desire to reach out may clash with fears that doing so might make other people uncomfortable being thought of as weak or vulnerable. They may be in fear of saying the wrong thing or not wishing to insult people due to a belief that everyone should simply suck up pain and lick their own wounds. 

Fact is, no matter what you experienced in childhood to the contrary, we’re all here to help each other. No one is an island. Extending and receiving compassion and understanding are normal, natural gifts we humans offer each other. Give it a try!