How to Support Someone Who's Going through a Rough Time
We've all been through shitty situations. Especially during these challenging pandemic times, many of us have experienced all kinds of stuff and it wasn't always positive. Some people are better at dealing with things than others. You might be a type of person who doesn't need a lot of support through a crisis. You might also be a person who needs a ton of emotional support, but never shows it or asks for it. You might be ready and willing to ask for help, but it feels that no one around you can provide exactly what you need. It doesn't help you get out of your already dark emotional hole and instead propels you deeper into it.
Every one of us is different and we all know how we want to be treated when we go through difficult times. However, supporting others during their challenges is a completely different story. One size does not fit all when people are going through their stages of grief. So what should you do when you have a friend, relative or significant other going through tough times?
Don't ignore their challenges and don't avid them. Even if you don't know what to say exactly, sometimes saying "I'm sorry" and "I'm thinking of you" could be enough.
Of course they could use some help. Vulnerability is never easy. It is definitely not easy to admit that you need help when you are going through shit. Instead, offer help and be specific in how you are able to assist.
Depending on how well you know the person and where they are in the process of dealing with their misfortunes, they might prefer different approaches. Some people want hugs. Some want someone to cry with or talk to. Some want alone time to process things. Some want you to do things without having to ask and some want you to offer options they can choose from.
You will have to adjust your approach accordingly, however, there are some things that never help and you gotta be aware of them.
Mentioning silver linings might not be the best idea.
It might not be the best time to share the "words of wisdom" or to look from a "different perspective".
Unless you are asked for it, avoid giving advice either. Don't minimize their feelings or share stories about people who had it worse and were just fine. You might be doing with the best intentions, but it makes the person to just choke on their feelings and keep their pain inside.
Instead, help them move through the experience. Help them sit with their pain and help them feel the realness of it.
The best way to heal is to not avoid the feelings, but to feel the pain fully. It might get messy, and that's okay. That's why you are there to help through the process. Just be there. It's important to give them time. It's important to create that time and safe space to just listen. Make them feel heard.
When you are going through something awful, it usually feels like nobody understands what you are going through. Chances are it's not true. People usually get it, they might be glad they are not going through the crap you are dealing with, but in that moment and time it doesn't matter.
Let them know that you are here for them and thinking about them. You will be there when they are ready to talk or share.
Don't rush them through their pain.
If you are saying that you will be there when they are ready, you can't get frustrated that they don't open up right away. If you feel like they don't fit into your schedule with their problems, maybe you are not ready to support them quite yet.
During these kind of moments, think about what, who and how has ever helped you before. What was useful and what really wasn't, and try to implement the stuff that worked. If you can't come up with a good example, coz people in your network just suck at emotional support, it's OK to say: “I just don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.”
Being present is key.
Even though you might be a great multitasker, and you can listen, retain information and watch TV or be on your phone at the same time, it's not the best strategy. The other person needs and wants to feel listened to, heard, and, in general, be a priority if you are trying to help them get through a shitty time. Their problems are already draining their time and energy, they don't need you to do the same.
Putting judgement or criticism aside is a great idea.
Even if you think their circumstances were brought onto them by their own doing, it might not be the best time to voice that. If you are right, chances are they already know that. Saying: "I told you so", would also not be helpful to anyone except your ego. So cut it out.
While you are at it, put aside your own emotions, unresolved feelings and opinions. When someone is telling you their relationships are falling apart, they feel worthless or more like a failure, don't jump into empathy. Don't try to contradict their views by saying something like: "you are doing great", "you are being too harsh on yourself", "you'll work it out", "at least you have xyz to complain about". It's not helpful. It's not about you.
Try something like: " I am really sorry about your loss or what you are going through", "I can't imagine how you might be feeling, is there anything I can do?". The last part might annoy many people who are dealing with shit. 'Coz remember, how can you understand what they are going through? You are not in their shoes. So sometimes, it's better to just shut up and listen, be present, be all there and be patient. When you really want to help someone, you have to love, and be ready to give energy, time and resources. Focus selflessly on the humans you love and support them without expecting anything in return.