MSneor/Pixabay
Source: MSneor/Pixabay

One of the most basic benefits of loving behavior is its ability to provide comfort. An infant cries, and an adult rushes to soothe. A toddler falls, and a parent tends the bloody knee with kisses and Band-Aids. A teenager suffers his or her first relationship rejection, and friends swoop in with mint chocolate chip ice cream and movies to distract from the pain. We do not like to see those we love suffer, even though a certain amount of pain is inevitable as we live our lives.

What are some circumstances when bringing comfort can show love?

  • Physical pain. We associate the word “pain” above all with physical discomfort. The toll a migraine or bouts of sciatica can take on mental and emotional resources can be enormous. Whatever comfort you can offer may be welcome, although some may prefer solitude and others companionship.
  • Emotional pain. Just as wrenching, emotional pain elicits an urge to comfort.  When my then four-year-old daughter announced that the six-year-old boy two doors down did not want to play with her, she was mystified but also hurt. Why was she being sent home? How could I help her identify and accept her own feelings while gaining perspective on the situation and empathy for the needs of “the older man” in her life at that moment? She needed the comfort of affection, being wanted, and understanding.
  • Profound sadness. Grief can bring a profound sense of emptiness, of loss.  Such sadness can elicit impulses to reach out, to offer comfort. Although some methods seem more universal than others, each person grieves in his or her unique way. Further, what works best can evolve over time. Comforting him or her requires tuning in to the sometimes subtle difference between what feels like comfort to them and what rests within your ability to reasonably provide. Communication is crucial, especially when nonverbal.
  • Disappointment. In a recent moving graduation speech, a high school principal noted that so many of his seniors had never known disappointment.  They saw themselves as “special”, outside the reach of normal failures and rejections. He pleaded with parents and others who loved them to help them see themselves as subject to universal laws of living — that some pains could be averted through their own efforts but others were an inevitable part of living a life in a complex world where everyone’s unique combination of potentials seeks to express itself. Perhaps more important, some events just happen.
  • Anxiety or Fear. People have a range of tolerance for their own fears and for the inevitable anxieties of living in the modern world. Stepping into the unknown can quickly cause excitement to dissolve into distress, curiosity into aversion. Comfort can come through constructive self-soothing with mantras or meditation or through destructive ones like numbing with food, alcohol or drugs. It can also come through the loving expressions of understanding offered by an intimate, assuring one that he or she is not alone and will not be abandoned. 
  • Frustration. As my old computer was dying, I became increasingly frustrated with waiting for it to execute my intended commands. As awareness of my anger (often fear or frustration transformed into a desire to lash out) increased, I sought comfort during the difficult times by distracting myself with solitaire games. My loving husband, seeing my distress, insisted on replacing the outdated computer with all its antiquated software. I have not played solitaire in the six weeks since I welcomed the new machine. 

How can we provide comfort?

  • Near-universal methods. Listening, feeding, distracting, exercising together, accompanying, engaging, all rank among the most common ways of comforting someone in need of it. An offer of a walk accompanied by an open ear, a container filled with homemade soup or cookies, an invitation to the movies or to a yoga class, an offer to attend an event that might be anxiety-provoking if approached alone. Involving the loved one in a joint task that will produce something of value, or provide help to someone else, can make magic.
  • Idiosyncratically. Each person has special touchstones that bring comfort. A child may have a designated stuffed animal or blanket. A teen may have a ritual activity such as face-timing a best friend before turning lights out at night. An
    jill111/Pixabay
    Source: jill111/Pixabay

    adult may rely on a sensory experience that brought comfort during childhood — the smell of warm apple pie, being enveloped in a warm embrace, being brought to a place of beauty or inspiration. I know that for me a cup of coffee, a visit to an ocean or river, a yoga class or a nature walk will almost always help.  Having someone help me get there is a blessing, an act of love when I cannot push myself to brew that cup of java, drive to the nearest waterway, wait for a class at my studio or push myself to ride my bike on the South County Trailway or walk along the Aqueduct. 

Why does providing comfort show love?

  • The Swedish proverb states: “Sharing doubles joy and halves grief.”  Companionship allows the empathetic connection between people to help ease the distress. Being careful to not enable the loved one to avoid confronting his or her own problem, we can provide the extra inspiration to soldier on, to make it to the next marker along the road to recovery.
  • Our human condition helps us gain perspective. Those born high in the genetic predisposition that leads to the personality trait of “agreeableness” are naturally altruistic. They automatically reach out to provide comfort. For others, we learn through our experience the benefits of comfort as well as what works for us and what does not. We come to appreciate what only human affection and devotion can bring and we become eager to bring it to others.

When did you last provide comfort to someone you loved?  What form did it take?  Was that a good choice?  How did you know how to do it?  When did you last receive comfort?  Who provided it and how was it provided?  What did you learn from your experience?

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

Visit me at www.miracleatmidlife.com

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