Thursday, 6 November 2014

We all need somebody to lean on

PHILOSOPHICAL THURSDAY: It isn't easy when we go through though times in our lives when we find ourselves emotionally damaged. Something or someone has upset us SO dramatically we almost feel broken. However it can be almost equally as hard when the person in pain isn't us but someone we really care about. Finding the right way to support that person can be really hard. It’s quite normal (particularly as a man) to feel like you just want to make things ‘all better’ for that person, but it’s not always that straight forward. Seeing the people we love in distress can actually make us feel pain and a little overwhelmed.
First of all, everybody is different and has different needs and different ways of coping. So what feels supportive for one person may not feel at all helpful for someone else. So rule one if you like is not to presume you know what someone needs or wants from you in terms of support. Secondly, remember it’s ok to admit that sometimes you just don’t know how to help them. So the best thing to do is just ask them the question! “What can I do to help?" or "What can I do to let you know I'm here for you?” If they say they don’t know, (Which is quite a common response) just reassure them that if there IS something they want, or need, to let you know and if you can help, you will. Just letting them know you are there is often a big help itself.
It’s also important to let those people be where they are emotionally, and to let them know that whatever they are feeling it’s ok. Feelings after all are just that – feelings. Not good or bad, not right or wrong. Life experiences will always give us the full range of human emotion. Feeling distress is not necessarily a negative thing. Even the most difficult experiences teach us about who we are, our relationship to others and the world around us. When bad things do happen it actually forces us out of our comfort zones and makes us stronger and more prepared for the future.
So often, what people really need in times of distress is just someone who can listen without judging them and someone with a sympathetic response.
So be aware of how you phrase things and the way in which you say them. Don’t say things like “You Shouldn’t . . .” or “Don’t . . .” . Those kind of answers are basically saying “What you are feeling is bad or wrong” or “Stop it” or “get rid of it.”
Accept the persons feelings how they are, don’t ask them to explain or defend the way they are feeling. Feelings are almost never logical, so don't expect the explanations of how they are feeling to be either. Resist the need to ask a lot of questions about whatever it is that has caused the grief as it may well have a negative effect and cause them to shut off completely.
Whatever you do, never ever say things like “cheer up” or “look on the bright side” or "just forget about it!". Chances are this will make them feel worse; knowing that they feel unable to do so. More positive feedback is best given when that person is at a stage when they are open to hear it. 
Also, don’t always rush in too soon trying to fix things. Sometimes just being there and allowing the person to say what they need to say, feel what they need to feel and ask what they might need to is the best way of being supportive, without trying to force it all to end sooner.
Of course the best thing to do is always to ask yourself how you would feel in their situation. That said, although it is really useful to draw on your own past experiences as an example, this isn’t always the case. If you yourself have unresolved issues or hurt on what they are going through, it’s going to effect your ability to be objective and neutral. So do know your own limits. 
Don’t expect that you should know all the right answers either and don’t let yourself feel guilty about it if you don’t. It’s ok to remove yourself from a ‘supportive’ role if you really don’t think you’ll be able to help. Just be honest about it with the person, we all have our limitations of usefulness when it comes to be emotionally supportive, but reassure them the you are of course able to just ‘be there’ for them.
Finally, and rather unsurprisingly from me, always offer them a hug. It is scientifically proven that being held, or hugged, (yes even for those that say they can't stand being hugged) or just having a shoulder to cry on or someone to lean on can feel amazing when the crud has hit the fan. Sometimes just a silent hug can say so much more, and be so much more comforting than any words are able to.
Do look after yourself, and each other.

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