What is Silver Lining? Empathic Failure Can Result.
A silver lining is the good you can find out of a bad situation. For example: a bad marriage’s silver lining may be the beautiful, wonderful children you have as a result of that marriage. Or, a difficult roommate in college helped you learn to stand up for yourself. A difficult class and unfair teacher made you work harder than you would have otherwise, etc. etc. etc.
It’s not bad to find the silver lining in the situations we encounter through life, in fact, it is a healthy and positive thing to do! However, it may not be your place to find the silver lining for another person or the timing may be wrong.
What is silver lining?
This happens when someone has a problem and is trying to tell another person about it and that person jumps to telling you a silver lining. The person hasn’t listened and doesn’t understand but can see all the good things that you obviously can’t. They feel the need to stop your complaining (as they often see it) and tell you why it is all good and you shouldn’t be upset.
Is there anything more irritating than someone who tells you how you should feel?! Silver lining does just this! It sends the message that you have no right to feel the emotions you are feeling. You have no right to complain, be heard or be understood.
Some people are really quick to silver line and point out all of the good for you.
When silver lining is not helpful
- Silver lining is not helpful when you are listening to someone else’s point of view or problem.
- They don’t listen to your problem, struggle or emotions you are going through.
- Not listening, discounts their experience and results in empathic failure!
- Your silver lining may keep them from reaching deeper and finding that silver lining themselves.
- Your silver lining may keep them stuck in re-living, justifying, and being negative about the situation because they are struggling for validation and still wanting and needing to be heard!
- It isn’t your place to point out the good. You don’t know what has contributed to the situation or the persons past that is affecting today’s emotions and so what you see as good may be more insulting and irritating than helpful!
- There are some people who will feel guilty and bad for having a negative thought and not seeing the good right away. By silver lining, you tell them, they need to stuff all those negative emotions and only see the good. People talk about their problems in order to find validation, make sense of a situation, and figure out how to handle negative emotions. Silver lining tells a person to suck it up; something good comes from everything.
- When a person knows that someone is going to silver line, they feel like they have to say things in the most dramatic way possible in order for that person to understand the depth of the pain, confusion or hurt they feel.
- It makes the person feel more negative because now they have to justify, in their mind, over and over again why they were having a problem. It keeps them stuck longer and adds more emotions to deal with.
- They feel like you don’t care, because you didn’t bother to listen. You wanted to solve the problem so they would go away and not bother you any longer. Their feelings/problem doesn’t matter to you.
What is Empathic Failure?
Empathic failure is when a person neglects to show or feel empathy for another person. Everyone does this to some extent, some time. We get wrapped up in our own problems and don’t take time to understand how someone else feels, even when they are telling us how they feel. We jump to the “good” or ignore the problem because we don’t want to deal with their problem or emotions or we are in too big of a hurry to listen.
Silver lining is an empathic failure because it skips over the listening and understanding part.
It leaves the person with the problem and situation feeling empty and unvalidated. It may even make them feel stupid and selfish. In fact, it may start a whole new host of confusing emotions that weren’t part of what they were feeling, before you decided that all the good needed to be pointed out.
I first learned about empathic failure when I read the book, Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina W Brown, Ed.D., L.P.C. I started to recognize that I had a tendency to be less empathetic than I thought I was. I also started to recognize that when I felt unsatisfied or didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for, that it wasn’t me but an empathic failure from someone else.
When I recognize I have had an empathy failure, I say I am sorry, and that I just had an empathy failure and then try and show the appropriate empathy to the person. Sometimes when my husband doesn’t give me the empathy I am looking for I will tell him he is having empathy failure and then we are able to really talk. Our kids picked up on it, too. They have cried empathy failure to one another and to us as parents. It has helped us to understand when and where we are being less empathetic and to teach our children better empathy.
When is silver lining helpful?
When the person has been heard. However, it is often more important for the person to discover the silver lining themselves. You may see something of importance from that situation or problem. Until they discover it themselves it will be missed and won’t connect as deeply as if they discovered the silver lining themselves.
When the person is spiraling. It’s okay to point out a good thing or two, but more important for them to discover the good for themselves. * The person may spiral because they don’t feel they are being heard or understood.
Lead them to the good with the questions you ask. This should only be done after really listening, understanding and showing sympathy. Questions like: “How did that make you feel when they didn’t follow your directions?””What do you think would work next time?”, “What can I do to help?”, ask for more information in order to understand or simply telling them you are sorry they had to go through the situation.
Instead of pointing out the good of the situation, find something positive about how the person handled the situation.
Repeat back the situation, in your own words; to show you understand. For example: “So, every time you reached out to communicate with Richard, he blew you off. He didn’t pay attention or understand the details of what he needed to do? There were mistakes he made that didn’t need to be made had he listened to what you said.” Then you might go on to express how frustrating that is to have people treat you that way.
Silver Lining often does the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish. What people really need is a listening ear and an understanding heart.