Sunday, 23 January 2011

the sympathy vote

When I first got a PC about 8 years ago I used to frequent a few chat rooms.
There were always people who would use them to bemoan their lives and the tragedies that happened to them.

I saw it so many times - they would come in the room and within five comments they had half the room telling them how strong they were and offering sympathy, the other residents would either leave or pm each other.

People having separate converations within the room would get an @ from the sobstory teller in an effort to involve them and usually any attempt to change the subject back would be hi-jacked or ignored.
At times I did wonder if any of it were true, I called it Munchausens online, an extreme form of attention seeking.

I used to equate them with the people (and we all know at least one) to whom you might say hello if you saw them in the street, but you never say ‘how are you’ because they’ll tell you - at length - and it's never good. Or people that I call emotional vampires.
So called friends whom spending any length of time with will leave you feeling drained, because all you’ve done is spend two hours that you’re never going to get back listening to tales of woe that you've heard a hundred times before, trying to be empathic, sympathetic or maybe even offer advice that’s never going to be acted upon.

Not that these people want advice.
They are really just using you as an unpaid and unqualified counsellor and probably have no real desire to change the situation anyway - without it they'd have nothing to say.

Try talking about something that’s bothering you and they will either relate your problem back to theirs…and off they go again…or leave.

I think those kind of people are attracted to strong folk because they see in you a quality that they subconsciously admire and wish they had. But if you become someone elses rock, in their eyes you cannot ever crumble And if you appear to be having a crisis of your own their solution is to have an even bigger one themselves.

I had this friend, someone I got to know because we lived on the same street and our children were the same age.
As we got to know each other better it was clear she had issues - what they were caused by I was never sure of, as far as I could see there was nothing wrong with her life.
She had a husband who clearly doted on her and worked hard to support her and their two sons, lived in a house they owned and although they were far from rich they were certainly comfortable.
I was a single parent living in a council flat - money was tight to say the least, but she was the one always down and complaining.
I think perhaps I had the glass that was a quarter full whereas the top of hers was glaringly empty.
For months I listened to her hard done by conversation, don’t get me wrong I liked her - I wouldn’t of been her friend if I hadn’t, but then this particular day I was upset over an argument I’d had with my mum and knocked her door in tears,
“Cowgirl . . . whatever’s the matter ? come in”
So we go in the kitchen and she puts the kettle on.
“ whats happened ? I’ve never seen you upset”
“its my mum Sharon . . . I can’t believe what she’s just said to to me”
“yeah, mothers, you think yours is hard work last week mine said . . . . . . . . . .  ."
I never did get to say anymore about what was bothering me.

What got me thinking about this was I saw a thread started on the discussion boards where the question had been asked ‘what the worst thing that’s ever happened to you’.
In some of the chat rooms I used to visit you wouldn’t of wanted to ask that, never failed to amaze me how people would want to black cat each other over tragedy and strife.

However one person had posted an answer that had been replied to by someone else saying of the four or five things she had listed a couple were actually things that had happened to someone else.
And she wasn't looking for sympthy, just answering the question.
I thought that was a horrible thing to say - someone's just disclosed some very personal stuff and another person thinks they have the right to trample all over it ?
Thing is I could relate to that, the worst thing that’s ever happened to me did in fact happen to my sister, still affected me though - deeply - still does, of course its far worse for her then me, but one persons tragedy can impact on many people unless you live a very isolated life.
While it is very true that a problem shared is a problem halved, and sometimes just writing it down can be a cathartic experience even if no-one but you ever reads it, the problem with sharing personal stories with strangers is that while you will no doubt find sympathy and understanding there are also people who either try to outdo you or make you feel worse.

Of course the people whose lives have not been easy are often the ones with the really interesting stories to tell . . . “I was born to a happy family in a nice house, did well at a good school, was a model teenager, married a nice man and we now live in nice house with our happy family" . . .  doesn’t exactly make for exciting reading does it ?

But it’s the way people tell their stories that makes the difference.
If you’re looking for closure or absolution I doubt you’re going to find it on the internet.
You might find kindred spirits and gain mutual support and understanding.
You may inspire or find inspiration.
You might make friends or even find a lover. 

And if you have a story to tell that’s worth reading and the skills to relate it well then there’s a world wide audience just waiting to hear it.

But it's not a substitute for a doctor or a counsellor, if you need one of them best go see the real thing.

1 comment:

  1. Yes I know just what you mean I have a friend like that....just joking. Thanks for that I feel a lot better.


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