What can I say or do? How to support a loved one through their struggle
One of the most rewarding feelings is when someone you care about feels comfortable enough to trust you about their struggles. While our intentions are pure, there are times when we are unsure of how to support our loved ones, or maybe what we categorize as support does the opposite and pushes them away. It’s not that we don’t want to help them; it’s just that we don’t know the how’s of approaching them. This can result in saying the wrong thing, undermining their experience, dismissing their feelings, changing focus to yourself and or avoiding them. Here are a few tips that I have learnt from my personal experience as a volunteer support worker and a counselling psychology student.
Tip 1: Active Listening
Sometimes your friend will come to you with a problem they are facing, and they may seem worried or
Stressed. This does not necessarily mean that they aren’t searching for solutions, but they might just be seeking a safe space to let out their emotions. Instead of being focused on how to “fix” the issue, focus on hearing what they are saying. Being a shoulder to lean on may seem small, but it is one of the best things you can do for someone you love.
Tip 2: Let them disclose as little or as much as they want
When we are trying to be helpers, we want to know as much as we can about the situation. Sometimes this curiosity can turn into pressure. Have the person lead the conversation and follow their pace. It takes a lot of courage for one to be vulnerable. You might be the first person they are talking to about this situation. Be patient and allow them to open up to you depending on their comfort level.
You can ask,
What would you like from me right now?
Is there anything I can do to help you? We can do it together.
Tip 3: Create a distraction-free environment
Show your loved ones that you truly value their courage to open up to you by making sure you are giving them quality time in a zone without any distractions. This could be as simple as putting your phone away when talking or taking them to a quiet room. Having no distractions plays into active listening which was mentioned in Tip 1. This will allow you two to connect more and for the person to feel safe.
Tip 4: Don’t try to diagnose or assume anything
I’m sure we have all Googled our symptoms for physical symptoms we were experiencing. While the internet is full of valuable resources, it is not a medical professional. Google can be amazing to learn more about mental health, but it should not be used as a diagnostic criterion. Although it is generous for you to support your loved one, stray away from coming to any conclusions about their situation. If you ever fear for the safety of your loved one, you can always find numbers to certain hotlines that can connect you with professionals.
Tip 5: It’s okay to not know what to do
Offering support is not always easy and that’s okay. Helping someone is rewarding but that doesn’t mean you should neglect how you’re feeling. It is important that you take care of yourself. Remember to take time to process anything that’s been said to you. Even counsellors need to take time for themselves to make sure that they see better able to help others. If you ever feel overwhelmed, you can offer support by connecting them to a professional or helping them find another strong support group.
Tip 6: Don’t make it about you
It’s a common practice to shift the attention to your experience, instead of keeping the focus on your friend. We all have similar experiences and stories, but it’s important to realize that your loved one is asking you to hold their pain with them, not silence it and make it about you. While you may be trying to connect with them, it’s better to let them know that you understand and are with them through this time.
Take home message
It can be difficult seeing your loved ones struggle so giving them a sense of support goes a long way. This experience can be new for both individuals- the one sharing and the one offering support. There might be moments where you may feel like you’re not doing enough, but just remember that something as small as listening goes a long way. Be kind to yourself and remember even as a friend and a helper, you are not alone. Ultimately, its okay to ask for help and you should never be afraid to redirect help to a professional psychologist or psychotherapist if you need further assistance.