Infertility Talk: How to Deal with an "Existentialist"

Infertility sucks, and talking about it is really freakin’ hard.  It’s super easy to hold everything in when you’re in the midst of infertility because there are so many painful layers to it.  People don’t know what to say to comfort you, and they are lost on how to show support.  You’ve tried to talk about it and the conversation went to a bad place or was really uncomfortable, so now you feel like giving up.  It’s incredibly isolating, and it feels like no one understands what you’re going through. 

This series is all about infertility communication, specifically different ways that people respond.  If you’ve read my first two posts about the “fixer” and the “minimizer”, you know that they are the well intentioned friend that just hasn’t figured out HOW to support you yet.  Each type of responder has a very important function in our lives, and keeping that in mind makes these conversations easier because you will know how to deal with different kinds of helpers.  Let’s be real, no one knows what they’re doing right away when something new, painful, devastating, and personally invasive comes up in conversation.

We could get mad at people for being selfish, and we could get hurt by the less than tactful approaches some people take.  Those would be perfectly valid and reasonable reactions to some of the comments my clients have heard from the people they went to for support.  This will take practice on both of your parts, and I believe that by processing the emotions and shifting our perspective about why people say the things they do, we can turn these conversations into something deep, supportive, meaningful, helpful, and open the eyes of both participants. 

So let’s get to the “existentialist.”  The existentialist is the person who is looking at the big picture.  Unlike the fixer, who looks at the details and wants to take 6-8 steps towards finding a solution in the next ten minutes, and the unlike the minimizer, who wants to take your pain away and replace it with cake and rainbows, the existentialist takes a realistic approach to viewing the situation.  In other words, an existentialist acknowledges the problem, they meet you where you are, and then they want you to see how it all comes together.  They are the ones that take a step back and want to understand the bigger plan that is taking place.  If they are using phrases such as “It’s just not the right time now” or “this is not in God’s plan for you,” they are likely an existentialist.  Here’s how this conversation might play out (person I is the person going through infertility):

Existentialist:  “So, when are you guys starting a family?”

Person I:  “It’s hard to say.  We’ve been trying for a while actually, and there’s some problems.” 

Existentialist:  “I’m sorry you’re struggling.  Well, it might not be the right time yet.” 

Person I:  “I don’t know, we feel ready and we’ve been wanting this for a long time.  It’s been really hard for us to deal with.” 

Existentialist:  “I know what you’re saying, but God knows when the right time is for you.  And if he hasn’t given you a baby yet, he knows that you’re not ready.  He wouldn’t give you something you can’t handle.” 

Person I:  “Maybe.  I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like God would do that.” 

Existentialist:  “When the time is right, your body will know it.” 

Existentialists serve an important purpose; they want to give you hope.  The existentialist is thinking ahead and wants you to know that there are some things that are out of your control and that’s ok, while also remembering that there is always hope that things will work out.  They are scared that when problems arise and you’re having a hard time with something, that you’ve given up hope and you’re looking at the small picture.  The existentialist is the “everything happens for a reason” kind of person.  At times, that can feel a bit dismissive of the pain you are facing right now.  In this moment, it’s hard to see that there could be a bigger plan or feel like God is doing this for some other reason.  The existentialist also wants you to accept whatever is happening to you, which is huge.  Although their words are sometimes hurtful or hard to hear, they are looking out for you in their own way. 

What are some effective ways to deal with an existentialist?

1.       Bring them into the present- Like the fixer, the existentialist is in the future when they respond. They do acknowledge that there’s a problem, but they want you to be hopeful.  Help them understand where you are right now, in this moment, today.  Explain to them where you are in the process, what things you are considering, and how you are feeling along the way.  Invite them to be in this space with you and honor where you are right now. 

2.       Connect with them emotionally- Existentialists are in their head, using theories or philosophies about the topic at hand.  They don’t always consider how you are feeling, so you’ll need to find a way to connect with them on an emotional level.  Share your feelings and be vulnerable with them. 

3.       Be honest about what offends you- Existentialists can come from a variety of thought processes and belief systems-sometimes religious or evolutionary (survival of the fittest ideas).  If you are not religious or don’t believe God has a plan for you, some comments may be offensive to you.  If you don’t explain how those comments make you feel, you’ll likely build resentments against the other person.  Be willing to open up and be honest about how these comments affect you. 

4.       Let them know that you have not given up hope-  Remember, the existentialist wants to give you hope, which means they perceive you to be hopeless.  Let them know that just because you are sad today or struggling with something emotionally in this moment does not mean that you have given up all hope.  Let me know that you understand this is a journey and one that is unpredictable, but you are willing to go through it.  Reassure them of your intentions. 

No matter what type of responder you’re dealing with- the fixer, minimizer, existentialist, or blamer- the key is to open up a meaningful dialogue.  This will require a level of vulnerability that you may not be ready for, which is understandable and valid.  It may be helpful to start small with someone you trust, to share with your partner and practice how to approach various situations, and to discuss this in a support group.  There are many options for navigating this little thing called communication.  It’s not easy, and you and the responder will likely mess up at times.  When that happens, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

If you are struggling with infertility or how to communicate it to your family and friends, one option is to explore these issues in therapy.  Therapy is a safe place to process emotions and understand relationships and communication.  One of my goals as a therapist is to increase infertility talk so that there is a reduced stigma and greater overall understanding about infertility.  If you are interested in working with me, I am located in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Tx.  I offer free phone consultations to discuss the therapy process and determine if it’s the next right step for you.  Call me at (832) 827-3288.

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