Updated: Sep 13, 2022
We all have our moment. Our moment when we need the support of our loved ones and our moment when they need us. For some, it can be hard to ask for help, while others might just open the floodgates and hold nothing back.
Knowing the right way to be there for someone who is struggling can be considered an art form in and of itself. What do you say? What do you do? What would actually make a difference?
Let me start by saying that it begins with your own self-awareness. The more aware you are of your current state of being, the easier it will be to find the right things to say and do that will make that difference. It can be very easy, especially if you are supporting someone you care for a lot, to let your own feelings and needs cloud your judgment. So, can you take a step back first and assess where YOU are at?
On that note, before you say or do anything, keep in mind that it is not your job to FIX them or their problems. Their happiness is not your responsibility and it does not depend on you! I’ll elaborate on that a little later. The important thing I want you to run with is that you can only ever SUPPORT someone in their OWN exploration of what they are going through.
Once you have understood where you personally are, you will have a better idea of what you can give to that person. How much of your time and energy you have available to be the most present, loving, and compassionate version of yourself for them. The more you fill up your own cup, the more you will have to give. It is not at all selfish to recharge your own batteries. Be kind to yourself and take care of your needs. Supporting someone selflessly is not about setting aside your own needs in a self-destructive way. It’s about being able to see your needs separately from theirs and honor both.
Next, take a moment to assess how open and willing they are to receiving help or change. If someone does not truly want to be helped, nothing you say or do will ever matter. They need to be willing to do the work it takes to improve their state of being. If you notice that they are very resistant to actually do this work it could be because they do not feel safe exploring their emotions or inviting change into their lives. Although it is often unconscious, it is very common to hold onto pain or struggle because not feeling it would mean changing who you are or letting go of the last piece you have of someone or something.
In this case, the only thing you can really do is demonstrate to that person that you are here for them with unconditional love. That there is no judgment and that this is a safe space for them to feel their emotions, no matter what they are. Be willing to remove yourself from the role of helper, if this person is simply not ready, and step up to it again when they actually do come around to it. Everyone has their own path to healing.
Recognizing this person’s level of willingness to receive is a big indicator of where they currently stand in their struggle. If they are really deep in that pit of despair, reaching for solutions to their problems isn’t going to be very effective. While you may have good intentions, when you try to offer solutions or ideas while they are in this mode, you will often only reinforce their crappy feeling of being broken.
In order for them to begin climbing the ladder of self-help, they need to get off the topic of their problem and out of their negative energy. Problems don’t get solved from the energy of the problem. They can only be solved when one allows clarity, trust, and inspiration to flow in. I want to emphasize the word “allow.” In order to allow, they need to find a state of relief and of relaxation to begin shifting their internal state and release their resistance. This doesn’t mean to ignore or pretend that there is no problem. It just means to stop trying so hard to fix everything right now. If you are curious to learn more about the effect of stress and anxiety on our ability to process emotions, watch my brief talk on this subject:
So, here’s what you CAN do in this moment. Ask them what would feel soothing right now or what would feel good, or simply let them know that if they want some company for getting their mind off of things, you are up for whatever silly, fun activity they want to do. This is the time to accompany them in a gentle, lighthearted, and “hand-holding” way. Let them know you are here. Check-in often, especially if they are someone who hates asking for help. Even though it may not seem like you are doing a whole lot, just knowing that you are thinking of them helps people to feel less alone in their struggle and can speed up their healing process.
Once they begin to feel less vulnerable and resistant, it is time to remove the crutch. Much like recovering from a bodily injury, after you’ve allowed sufficient time for rest, you want to rebuild strength. This could mean reminding them it’s time to let go, to move on, that bigger and better things are waiting for them, and that change is safe. It could mean not letting them get off the hook with self-sabotaging behavior. It could be assisting them in identifying behaviors that will reinforce positive emotions. If it feels appropriate, this is the time for a little tough love.
However, it still does not mean telling them what they should do or what would fix their problem. You can certainly ask them questions that can help them think through options and explore how they feel. I want to emphasize again that solutions come in the form of inspiration and in order to receive that, one needs to remove the mind-chatter and relax. Again, you are not responsible for FIXING them. It’s not even their job to fix themselves, because they were never broken in the first place. All that you can do is remind them of that. Remind them that they are loved, supported, and not broken. Help them to see their strength and step into their power.
Sometimes the hardest part of this stage of the healing process is letting this person stand on their own two feet. We might feel we have neglected or abandoned them or that we are being too harsh. Just remember that always being a savior can rob them of the opportunity to find their own strength. While there is no doubt a huge learning curve in taking responsibility for one’s own happiness, it can be one of the most self-empowering and life-changing mindset shifts.
I say this from my own personal experience of owning up to and accepting my weaknesses. Of falling apart and putting myself back together again. I can now say that I have so much appreciation for all of the experiences where I didn’t always have my hand held. All of the moments that at the time felt unfair and harsh. All of the people who didn’t give in to my desperation to be held in the moment when what I really needed was to hold myself. Those people saw my strength before I ever could. They gave me the opportunity to see it in myself and thanks to that I am stronger, happier, and more fulfilled than I ever have been.
While we may all be on a different part of our journey, this state of joy is available to everyone. Not a single person on earth is excluded from achieving it, and nobody is less or more worthy of it. As Helen Keller put it, “The world is full of suffering, but it is also full of overcoming it.”
Learning to support someone through hard times is about seeing yourself and the other as you both truly are underneath the narrative of your lives.