Of course, it’s easy to sympathize with most people. If someone has been abused, bullied or worse as a child, our hearts go out to them in sorrow for their suffering. Or we can see someone’s beautiful spirit, the spirit of God, in them and our hearts will go out to them with compassion and empathy. But if a friend, neighbor or co-worker comes to you full of hurt, anger and outrage, does that mean that someone else actually did something wrong to them?
Maybe or maybe not.
For example, Linda recently moved next-door to Carrie in their friendly, family-focused block. It was a cul-de-sac and all the families had kids approximately the same age. They’d organized many activities, birthday parties and car pools in order to create a community feeling.
Carrie and Linda started becoming close friends. One day, Linda came to Carrie crying and angry. As Linda struggled to stop her tears, Carrie felt herself becoming angry on Linda’s behalf. Who’d caused this much pain and suffering to her friend?
Linda explained that one of the other women had made cutting remarks about Linda’s husband not being as successful as many of the other husbands and that Linda’s children weren’t as athletic or smart as the others. Carrie was furious. How could that woman say such things and hurt Linda so much? What kind of neighborly welcome was that?
In an act of sympathetic friendship, Carrie said she’d never liked the other woman, who was always pompous and inflating her husband and children. Linda shouldn’t pay attention to what the other woman had said. Linda should know all the other women liked her much more than the other woman.
None of that was true. Carrie actually liked and admired the other woman. She’d never been negative, insensitive, righteous or arrogant before. She’d always gone out of her way to help everyone. Actually, Carrie couldn’t imagine the other woman saying those things to Linda. But, obviously Linda’s pain meant that she had, indeed, said those things. And Carrie thought it was her responsibility to comfort Linda and make her feel better.
The tactic worked. After Carrie’s statement, Linda seemed to feel much better. She thanked Carrie and left.
Two days later, Carrie noticed that the other woman had snubbed her in public and was whispering with Linda and a few of the others behind Carrie’s back. Linda seemed to be accepted as part of the group and Carrie was glad for her. But she still felt the cold shoulder. Over the next week, it got worse. She felt defeated, being cut out by the other women.
Episodes like this were repeated, sometimes with Carrie as the target and sometimes with other women as targets. Carrie realized that it was like being back in junior high or high school again. There was the clique of “in girls,” now led by Linda, and a shifting group of “targets-of-the-day.”
Carrie later discovered that after she’d sympathized with Linda, Linda had gone to the other woman and told her what Carrie had said behind her back. Of course, the woman had reacted and had started snubbing Carrie.
In this article, I won’t go into how Carrie learned what Linda had been doing to each of the women or how Carrie managed to combat it. Carrie might have been Linda’s first target, but she was not a victim.
Linda’s narcissistic, sneaky, manipulative, back-stabbing behavior was her tactic for breaking in to a new group and taking control of it. Linda was a Queen Bee. She wanted to control the turf. She wanted everyone to be either so worshipful or so afraid that they sucked up to her and did what she demanded.
If Carrie had let herself be ruled by her sympathy for a friend trying to break in to a new group, she’d have never been able to protect herself. Instead, she did not accept defeat. She took power over her actions. She was able to bring the women together in friendship and to return the block to a friendly, activity-filled community.
Carrie and the other women found that acts of friendship did not change Linda’s behavior. She could not be won over to acting nicely. All their sympathy and compassion didn’t stop Linda from harassing or bullying. She would not be a true friend. She remained a “mean girl.
As Carrie discovered the hard way, sometimes sympathy can be a trap. Her sympathy only aided and enabled a bully to spread her poison.
Just because someone is hurt and angry does not mean that someone else really did anything wrong to them
Carrie should have been more careful of what she did to make Linda feel better. And she should have trusted her knowledge of the other woman’s good character. She should not have believed Linda’s report, no matter how convincing. She should have spoken face-to-face to the other woman in the beginning.
If a person who’s hurt, angry and complaining is a snake or go-between, who likes to pour gasoline on fires and stir up trouble between other people – who plays the game of “Uproar” – they’ll use any sympathy, opinions or information to enmesh you in a fight with someone else.
I haven’t mentioned the “Linda’s” in our extended families because we already know who those manipulative tricksters are. We’ve already been sucked in to their manipulations so many times that we’ve learned to protect ourselves and to maintain good relations with the other people who act nice in return
A big learning for Carrie was that we may see someone’s shining, Godly spirit, but we’ll probably get to deal with their personality and the consequences they cause us.
It’s not the sympathy that’s a problem. It’s how we express that sympathy or the dumb ways our sympathy can lead us to act in order to make someone feel better.
For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.