Being a better support for those who are hurting

Something I see from family, significant others, friends, or co-workers, is when they see someone they care about expressing negative emotion, the first thing I hear is, “don’t be upset”, “don’t be stressed”, “don’t cry”, or “stop it, crying ain’t big hoop energy!” Another thing I see is advise giving. “You need to do this”, “stop caring about what others think”, “You should…”, or “you shouldn’t…”

The problem with making statements like this is that they bring more harm than good and that is because feelings are valid. When someone is told to “stop” or “don’t” regarding feeling a certain way, it can intensify the hurt or anger that is already there and leaves the person feeling alone. The fact of the matter is, it’s okay to feel negative emotion. Feeling negative emotion is a normal, human reaction. It is okay to feel stressed, angry, depressed, or even suicidal. It’s acting on those negative emotions or thoughts that are wrong. This would include verbal or physical abuse, assault, murder, or completing suicide.

Another problem I see is advise giving. This can make the person in distress feel inferior, demeaned, or closed off. The problem with giving advise is, the one thing that may have worked for you, may not work for them. There is always a chance that the advise given may actually help however, I would not want to be in that person’s shoes if their advice did not help. What I’m getting at is, no one knows their situation better than themselves. When you start giving advice, it puts you up on a pedestal and them below you, making you the expert on their problems. Instead, the optimal approach is being a team with the person in pain. Not just supporting them but putting the work on them. Allowing them a chance to decide what would be the best option for improving their situation.

  1. When someone is feeling upset, it’s important to validate the way they’re feeling. Here are some different ways you can help support someone you love when they are hurting:
    • Validation– This is to recognize someone’s feelings and acknowledging them as important.
    • Normalizing– Sharing that what they are feeling is normal. That anyone in their situation would feel angry, stressed, demeaned, etc. Normalizing helps let the person know they are not alone and that others have gone through the same experience.
    • Label Feelings– Sometimes people have a hard time pin pointing what they’re feeling and may need help after telling their story. For example: “It sounds like your feeling guilty.”
    • Allow them to cry– Crying is a healthy release of those negative emotions. When you tell someone to stop crying, you’re blocking this healthy release and forcing them to bottle feelings up. Also, if someone cries in front of you, they are in such a vulnerable and delicate state. It’s important to allow this release of emotions and comfort them when they’re ready. Bottling emotions up can cause chronic illness later in life and those emotions will still end up coming out in other ways.
  2. When coming up with a solution to help improve someone’s situation, here are some questions you can ask to remain their equal, and allow them to come up with their own options that can help:
    • “What have you done that’s helped in the past?’
    • “What would you like to see happen?”
    • “What can you do to help improve your situation?”

Seeing someone in any type of pain can be devastating and painful for the person observing as well, especially if it’s a loved one. Some feel deeply and don’t have the capacity or patience to deal with someone else’s pain due the their own unresolved pain or emotional unavailability. I’ll talk about this in another post, but if you feel compelled to force your own agenda on someone else or don’t have the capacity to allow them to hurt, I would encourage you to give that person space. When someone is hurting, it’s important to focus on them and not yourself. In the end, we want others who are in pain to feel supported and understood.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW ARE HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, PLEASE CALL THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE AT 1-800-273-8255 FOR SUPPORT OR IMMEDIATELY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN/ NEAREST HOSPITAL

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