Are You Responsible for Other People’s Suffering?

By Richard West

Guest writer for Wake Up World

I’ve been touching on the subject of responsibility with many of my clients recently. Many people see the pain of those around them and feel a certain sense of responsibility for it, particularly when what they’ve said or the actions they have taken have led to pain in another. It’s one theme I’ll be touching on in my book ‘Awakening Into Change’ coming out in autumn (fall) of 2018. And because it’s such a sensitive subject I thought I would go deeper here into exactly why I say you are NOT responsible for other people’s suffering.

What can you be responsible for?

There is a very important difference to make here. You are not responsible for how others react to your behaviour. However, you ARE responsible for how you behave, and how you treat others.

I understand how grey this area can be. I expect we can all think of situations where something that we’ve said or done has had a direct impact on someone else, causing them pain in the process. It’s bound to happen when interacting with others, especially for those living with families.

So, what’s the best way to treat others? Are you:

  • Always nice to them, taking great care not to cause them any pain if you can?
  • Always truthful, no matter what pain may be caused?

Discernment is key

Sometimes the loving approach is to call someone up on their stuff, even if it does lead to pain. Sometimes, it’s not the right time to do that — perhaps they’re already in great emotional stress and aren’t in a place where calling them up will have any benefit. Or, perhaps you’ve told them the truth many times before, even if it’s just about establishing your own boundaries, and they refuse to accept that truth. Perhaps the loving approach is to meet someone in their pain exactly where they are.

The point is, how someone reacts to any stimulus is their own responsibility and theirs alone. How disempowered would you feel if you found out someone was always protecting you to prevent you from feeling bad? Surely it’s your decision how you deal with your own pain? Not only this, but why would you take on the burden of someone else’s pain? It’s both disempowering for them and it puts unnecessary strain on you.

Let’s be clear. I totally understand how hard it is to tell someone an uncomfortable truth, knowing that it may lead to suffering. I’ve had this pattern for most of my life, being a people pleaser in every sense of the word. How wonderful it is when people are happy. Then you can be happy right?

Reflections in the mirror

How you react to other people’s pain is exactly the same as how you will react to your own pain. If you will do anything to prevent yourself from feeling pain or suffering, then you will also take on the responsibility for others, because you won’t want to see this mirror. It reminds you of your own buried pain. But if you have become comfortable with your pain, because you recognise its the route to your own light through self-realisation, then you will also be able to approach others pain and be with them through it. Even if something you said/did has triggered this pain.

Stephen Levine tells a beautiful story in his book ‘Who Dies?‘ which shows us exactly how beautiful this can be.

“I have a friend, a chemotherapy nurse in a children’s cancer ward, whose job it is to pry for any available vein in an often emaciated arm, to give infusions of chemicals that sometimes last as long as twelve hours, and are often quite discomfiting for the child. He is probably the greatest pain giver the children meet in their stay in the hospital. Because he has worked with his own pain, his heart is very open. He works with his responsibilities in the hospital as ‘a laying on of hands with love and acceptance.’ There is little in him that causes him to withdraw, which would reinforce the painfulness of the experience for the children. He is a warm, open space which encourages the children to trust whatever they feel. And it is he who the children most ask for at the time they are dying. Although he is the main pain giver, he is also the main ‘love giver’.”

Becoming completely ‘okay’ with your own pain

The only way to overcome this pattern of taking on responsibility for other people’s pain is to work with your reaction to your own pain. Can you sit with it and not run away with distractions or medication? Believe me I know how hard this can be. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Dealing with your own pain leads to an end to suffering. Not an end to pain — just a way of dealing with it that brings you into the full light of who you are. Expansive, present and so much more than the pain. For help dealing with your pain and ending your suffering, see the article Be as a Lake: A Fresh Perspective on Pain.

If you don’t judge your own pain then you no longer judge the pain of others. If you no longer judge their pain, then you don’t need to save them from it any more. You don’t shy away from expressing your truth, even if it may lead to someone else’s suffering. And the unbelievably beautiful thing is, you can be right there with them as they go through it showing them that they are not alone. Because pain is something that unites us all.

With love,

Recommended reading by Richard West:

About the author:

Richard West

Richard West is a carer, psychologist, spiritual facilitator and writer. After a life of much change, both wanted and unwanted, he decided to embrace all aspects of change, and be a reflection of this for others. Today Richard is a spiritual facilitator at Openhand. He offers services in Spiritual Facilitation and Conscious Dying on his website ‘Back to the Source’ and writes regular articles on his blog.

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