Dear Rachel,

I am a loyal friend and a good listener when my friends are having problems. But it’s hard for me to have empathy when people complain about blessings that I don’t have—like a husband when I don’t have a husband, or their car when I don’t have a car. This has caused friction. I’ve tried explaining to my friends that it’s hard for me to give sympathy when I would love to have their “problems.” Shouldn’t they be more sensitive about what they complain to me about? And how can I find empathy for their issues?

Dear Sensitive,

Every gift we possess can be both a virtue and a liability. The thing that makes you a good friend — your sensitivity — also presents a problem of giving empathy when you yourself feel deprived of the blessings the other person is complaining about. And that’s perfectly understandable.

It’s true that your friends should be more sensitive and not complain to you about things which would emphasize a lack in your life. But we’re discussing you, not them. And I don’t think it’s practical to give your friends a list of topics they can’t discuss with you. So your goal is twofold: to eliminate the feelings of resentment, and to be a good friend.

So let’s discuss some options:

1. Realize You Have the Blessings You Need in Your Life

Blessings (and the problems that invariably stem from them) are tools we are given to serve G‑d and realize our mission in this world. If you haven’t been blessed (yet) with a particular thing, it means that you don’t need it in your life, at this moment, to realize your potential as a human being.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting and striving for all the good things in life, wanting what someone else has is sort of like wanting to have clothes not in your size. They won’t fit you.

2. Other’s Blessings Don’t Take Away Yours

G‑d is infinite and is the source of all blessings. Other people’s blessings do not delay or take away from yours. So do not begrudge others their blessings. “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” (Avot 4:1).

3. We All Sometimes Take Our Blessings for Granted

We generally want to be around people who are grateful and positive, and not be brought down by the negativity of others. Try to spend time with people who are grateful rather than with those who are always complaining, especially if they are not willing to take the steps to solve their problems. On the other hand, you might also think it isn’t right for people who have these things you would like to have yourself to be complaining about them. But don’t we all, sometimes, take our blessings for granted and complain? It is also quite possible that other people are envious of your blessings, which you might be taking for granted. Perhaps you can see your friend’s complaints as a mirror to yourself, and question whether or not you, too, are appreciating your blessings.

4. Put Yourself in Their Place

Empathy doesn’t mean that you have actually been in the other person’s place; it means that you can imagine yourself in that place and how it would feel to be there. Of course, it helps if you relate via a similar experience, but you don’t have to actually have had the exact same experience.

We have all experienced feelings of anger and frustration, disappointment and betrayal, loss and worry. Those are the feelings to connect to in your friends, regardless of what is causing them. And your friends will appreciate that connection and your understanding.

Great rabbis throughout the generations have been noted for feeling the pain of their supplicants. It isn’t because they have experienced that pain themselves, but that they could put themselves in the other person’s place, exemplifying the Torah’s directive to love another Jew as yourself.

5. Be Curious About What They Are Going Through

A great tool, used by most therapists, is to ask questions. Don’t make judgment calls on what the other person is experiencing. Ask questions so that you understand them better. Most people aren’t looking for solutions for their problems; they are looking for understanding and validation of their pain. Anyone can give that without invalidating their own pain just by being more curious about what the other person is going through.

Wishing you every blessing,