Helping sufferers without having suffered

Previously I posted this quote:

It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer

Attributed to Aeschylus, Greek playwright

I fully believe that we counselors are able to counsel those who suffer in ways we have never experienced. I need not be sexually abused to help those who have been. But, let us not believe that we truly understand those experiences we never knew. I have walked with a variety of people with terrible suffering. I think they found my listening and counsel helpful. But now that I am having their experience, I now know I knew NOTHING of what they were really experiencing.

We should not be hesitant to help. But be wary of easy advice!


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5 responses to “Helping sufferers without having suffered

  1. Lou Buses

    Having insight into how a person is feeling is helpful. Having gone through the experience should give us greater insight. However, every event and individual is unique. Even our experience in common is of limited usefulness. You may just ‘think’ you know how they feel.

    Two things are important. 1) Just be there for them! The presence of someone who cares is immensely valuable. 2) Counsel carefully from the truth of God’s word. It is the most powerful weapon we have against pain and tragedy.

  2. Joy

    Even having had a similar experience doesn’t mean we’ll be better helpers, unless we truly overcame, drew closer to God, gained greater insight, and have learned about God’s grace through it all. We know of people who have gone through terrible things and have been healed and restored, who have started ministries that have helped countless people. They’ve been there. By God’s grace, they overcame. And, they understand and know how to help. However, with God’s heart and wisdom, we can help the hurting and not really understand all that they are going through. But I agree, we have to be wary in easy advice. Sometimes a lack of understanding can cause us to be insensitive. If we have empathy and compassion, along with God’s wisdom and insight, we can be very effective helpers because God will work through us. He’s the one who brings healing, comfort, hope, and help through us.

  3. Douglas Root

    We were created to hear truth. With truth comes pain. With pain we have two options; accountability or denial. If we choose accountability, joy, happiness and contentment are all possible!!!

    It is an amazing gift to counsel the Word of truth, and with this gift, boundaries are paramount. Unsolicited advice is “abusive”. To enter into anothers emtional pain are level of emotional maturity should be such as to not become preoccupied with self. If we are deeply in tune with our own emotions and feelings, we can move into the emotional worlds of others, meeting them at a place of their feelings, needs, and concerns. We ourselves have to be deeply convinced we are absolutely loved by Christ, that we have nothing to prove.

    As M. Scott Peck writes:

    There is no way that we can live a rich life unless we are willing to suffer
    repeatedly, experiencing depression and despair, fear and anxiety, grief and
    sadness, anger and the agony of forgiving, confusion and doubt, criticism
    and rejection. A life lacking these emotional upheavals will not only be
    useless to ourselves; it will be useless to others. We cannot heal without
    being willing to be hurt.

  4. William

    Wonderful, thought provoking post and comments.

    I think both experience and lack of it create resources and pit-falls.

    Not having the experience the other is struggling with can make it much harded to understand and connect. But it can also create openness and curiosity to ask questions and explore aspects of the person’s experience that someone with a similar experience might miss.

    Having the experience, while being a point of connection, can also be a set of blinders and assumptions that miss out on the uniqueness of the other person and of their situation.

    The danger comes with arrogance, whether I’ve had a similar experience or not, that I understand what another person is going through.

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