don’t worry, we all have problems

Earlier this year, I attended a gathering of women with perhaps the best “get to know you” activity ever. Our hostess asked everyone to name something happy in their life right now and something really difficult. As we went around the circle, the answers became progressively more honest and personal. We cheered for successes with children, careers, education and wiped away tears as women described parenting issues, marriage problems, fears for the future…. Women wrapped arms around each other in sympathy for weight gain and/or a rebellious child, because it’s all hard, there’s no hierarchy of “problems worth mentioning” vs. “issues which must be suffered in silence.”

As you might imagine, those introductions set the tone for an event where women who’d scarcely known each other the day before could connect and learn from each other in powerful ways. And, as I’m sure you intuited, we bonded through our deficiencies more than through our successes.There’s something powerful and sacred in acknowledging our need for help and receiving acceptance without judgment or blame.

As I’m sure you also guessed, not a single person said, “Oh, I don’t have any problems.”


Plato, he knew his stuff. I love that quote so much I painted on our laundry room wall twelve years ago. I see it every day. And I still forget. We all forget.

Recently I was caught in another social situation precisely the opposite of the one above. For well over an hour I was stuck with a woman who took no time to listen, but every opportunity to berate, belittle and offer unsolicited advice.

Feeling cornered and frankly shocked by her verbal harassment I considered asking, “Why are you treating me like this?” but decided I didn’t want to engage in a battle. Once she left, I turned to our mutual friend and asked, “What just happened?”

“She does this sometimes,” my friend explained, “if she thinks your life is going a bit too smoothly, she’ll bring you down.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I believe in constructive criticism and more than once a bit of random advice set me straight. I’m a huge believer in taking the opportunity to learn even from unpleasant people, but no one needs a sixty minute verbal harassment. Especially from someone who hasn’t taken the time to get to know us.

Just days after my own experience, I talked to a friend who was receiving the same sort of censure from a fellow employee and read an email from a cute sister missionary who was cringing from abuse from her companion. Our friend Roger calls these critics ‘crab traps’– people who just want to pull others down with their crabbiness.

Parents often fall into this habit with their kids, wives with husbands and vice versa. It’s good for all of us to sit back and ponder the absolute futility of excessive criticism.

Honestly, I’m sure I’ve been a crab trap myself at times. And the woman who berated me is a lovely person– kind and generous and always looking out for others (just not me that day). I think we just forget everyone has problems, everyone has heartache. We don’t share those hurts with everyone because A. no one wants to be a downer and B. sharks attack when they smell blood in the water. I’m an extremely open person and don’t mind sharing my own foibles, but we all have struggles we can’t share. We can all whine about the agonies of potty training, but when kids (and spouses and siblings and such) get a bit older we owe them privacy.

In contrast to the crab traps, I think of my friend Sue. She’s the kind of person you look for across the room because she’ll wrap her arms around you, tell you you’re wonderful, cheer with your successes and validate every concern. Actually, I have a lot of friends like Sue– people who make you stand a bit taller and try a little harder to be the person they already think you are.

I’m worn out these days. I’ve just gone too fast for too long and I’m not very good at relaxing (because there’s always work to do). When an introvert like me gets burned out, it’s hard to exude love and compassion for others. Still, I want to be like Sue, or rather like Jesus. I want to make you stand a little straighter and feel a little happier. And if I start acting like a crab trap, let me know, that’s the kind of criticism I need to hear.



August 29, 2016
September 9, 2016



  1. Emily B

    September 4, 2016

    Wishing I could wrap my arms around you right now. Sorry you got caught in a crab trap conversation (or lecture sounds like).
    Thank you for sharing yourself with us online, you are the opposite of a crab trap here, uplifting.
    I hope you are able to quickly brush off hurtful comments, whether intentional or not.
    Easier said than done in my experience.

  2. Danielle

    September 4, 2016

    Well said. Sometimes I have to remind myself that even people that seem to have everything going for them have their struggles. I want to be like your friend Sue. But I, too, am an introvert, and have to force myself to interact with people when I’d rather stay home. It seems as though you spend quality time with many different friends. I admire that and wonder how you overcome your “introvertedness” to do it. Thank you for your blog posts. 🙂

  3. Kristen

    September 5, 2016

    Thank you! I stumbled across you this Labor Day morning. It was a gift from God!

  4. Michelle

    September 5, 2016

    I was thinking about you just the other day as I had a conversation with my friend about the power of vulnerability. I remembered your post about sitting down with your new visiting teachers and wanting to just get right to the heart of that kind of sharing. It’s one of the things I appreciate about you and people like you. So much of your power comes from the fact that you also are willing to walk the path of pain with others (both in seeking support from others and in offering it).

    I had some experiences like this on social media recently and it really knocked the wind out of me. Just when I think I’m really ok, something will happen that makes me realize how much I need safe places to fall and think and share.

    I’m reminded of Elder Maxwell’s quote that we are all each other’s clinical material. It can be so brutal, because we can slip in and out of being kind to each other (sometimes in a matter of a minute or two) when our own need for reinforcement or validation trumps our ability to be there for someone else.

    I am sorry you are so depleted. You gave so much in that RubyGirl retreat. I wish there was a way to pour some of that light and love back into you. It’s ok to refuel however you need to. Surround yourself with safe people while you do. Love you.

  5. Ann

    September 6, 2016

    I appreciate this post. I am happy for, and envy, your circle of women who encourage you to to be your best. My mother is one of those people that spent 60 minutes taking you down. It’s a really hard thing to know how to best honor her while not allowing her to harm me anymore. It’s also a huge learning curve for me to be one of those women and how to attract those kind of women into my life who build and nurture. It’s utterly foreign to me. One of the very biggest blessings of the internet for me is getting a peek inside someone’s life who is real and honest and healthy in ways that I didn’t see woman model growing up. Thank you.

  6. angie charles

    September 7, 2016

    “I want to make you stand a little straighter and feel a little happier”. I like that. And you do make me as a reader feel that way. Thank you.

    Dear Michelle, we all hope you get the R&R you need, so your full strength and enthusiasm will return, which uplifts us all. I always look forward to your posts.

    A short thought about the “unpleasant” sister missionary, from someone who did not grow up American-
    To young people who are not from the US, with all its privilege and plenty, American teens can seem spoiled and yes entitled, with their air of easy confidence, their wide smiles, straight teeth, and glamorous-looking family photos and activities, water-skiing, etc.etc. —

    It’s hard to even imagine how differently most of these other young people grew up, with much less opportunity, support, etc. on all sides.

    This “crabby” companion needs reassurance that she is also lovable and important, that she fits in with all the American missionaries, and in the Lord’s and the church’s eyes, is just as valuable and important.

    And the American sister can prove to her in humility and service that not all American girls are “spoiled”.


      September 7, 2016

      Beautifully expressed Angie. Thank you.

  7. Laura Graham

    September 9, 2016

    I love everything you have ever written and throughout my day (especially rough moments with my little ones) I will ponder little bits of wisdom you’ve shared. One of my all time favorites was to enjoy the good times and know the bad times will pass. I appreciate your honesty so much. It makes me feel more human and connected to my own emotions. Its like you can put into words what my heart is feeling or aching for. Thanks for bringing some added peace and inspiration into my day. I hope one day I run into you at the grocery store or something. I would give you a huge hug and buy you a diet coke (or a candy bar :)) and tell you thank you a hundred times for your example. Thank you for writing and thank you for being such a beautiful mentor.

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