Saturday, March 21, 2015

Do's and Don'ts for Helping Someone With Emotional Pain

“Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed. At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.” ~ Mathieu Ricard

What are the best ways to support someone who's going through a tough time?

Knowing how to best support a friend or loved one who is undergoing a tough time is an important relationship builder. It's a skill that comes in handy in any relationship - with a spouse or romantic partner, family member, friend, or work colleague. Whether they are grieving a death or other terrible loss, received crushing health news, undergoing a break-up or any other major life transitions, read on for some skills to support someone in an emotionally fragile state.

One of the best ways to support someone who is experiencing emotional pain is to truly listen.  This is often easier said then done.  Take your time to truly sit down, spend time, and listen. Approach the situation with no assumptions or preconceptions in mind. Find a quiet, private space. Present yourself as a calm listener.
There are several skills to convey empathy and care:

1. Practice Thought Empathy: Paraphrasing the other person’s words. Mirror what the other person is saying in a non-judgmental way
Goal: To truly understand where the other person is coming from.
Example: “It sounds like work has been getting tougher because of all these new demands at your job".

2. Use Feeling Empathy: Acknowledge how the other person is probably feeling, given what they are saying to you.
Goal: To see if you are reading the other person’s feeling correctly.
Example: “Getting this feedback from your boss is stressing you out".

3.  Find something positive to reply to the person.
Goal: To show genuine curiosity and respect.
Example: “I appreciate you trusting me with this problem".

4. Ask gentle questions about what the person just told you. Open ended questions work best.
Goal: To learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling:
Examples: How come...? This is because...? How did you come to be...? What do you think about....? How do you feel about…?

Are there things I shouldn't do when trying to support someone?

Even with the best intentions, we can directly or indirectly convey information to the person that may hinder the process of supporting and healing, or even shutting the person down.  One is by making dismissing statements.  Dismissing emotions can take many forms - watch out for these subtle statements.
1. Minimizing what the other person is feeling.
Examples: "You'll get over it", "Come on, it's not that bad". "Just dust yourself off and try again".)
2. Making an assumption about the person's situation or feelings, or predicting the future (which no one can). 
Examples: "Tomorrow, you will feel better". "Give it a week". "He'll come around". "I have a feeling you will be just fine". "It will work out next time".
3. Making the situation or their problem about yourself
Examples: "This reminds me of when my grandmother died…." "I feel the exact same way, let me tell you about….". "When my aunt had cancer, she tried this new treatment…." "After my miscarriage, we tried again right away and it worked! You should do the same!"

With trying to fix the situation, you risk making wrong/faulty assumptions, which can put distance between you and the person who is experiencing a tough time. It may also feel to the person like you are placing yourself above them with expertise, rather than meeting them where they are. Try to stay away from these assumptions:
1.The person wants "fixing", rather than perhaps just wanting someone to listen, sit with them or hug them.
2. Whatever you believe works for you or others you know, will also work for this person, in this situation. It may be far from it.

Some other helpful things to remember when supporting someone who's hurting:

Remember that their emotion isn't your emotion. Being a good friend or support doesn't mean you have to feel that same emotion or intensify the emotion for you and the person. Set healthy emotional boundaries for yourself so that you can truly be present with the person.

Also, when offering concrete support to someone in crisis, the question "Is there anything I can do?" can at times feel overwhelming to the person. They may not want to burden you or feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out what they want you to do for them. Offer something concrete: "I'm bringing over dinner tonight. If you don't feel like talking, I will simply leave it at the door".