Saturday, July 18, 2015

Supporting Someone who is Struggling

We often consider ourselves to be good friends especially to those closest to us. We say nice things to them. We are not mean. We tell them if they have food in their teeth. We remind them they are pretty even on days they don't feel like they are. We support them through breakups or listen to all the juicy details about new relationships. We are a shoulder to cry on when a family member passes. We are a good friend to them, and no one can deny that fact. Now what if that friend starts showing signs that their hurt, pain, or struggle is beyond your normal scope of friendship duties? What do you do then? How do you help when you know you are not qualified to help them? What if you have a friend that gets a diagnosis from a professional that they are "depressed" or that they have "PTSD" or "anxiety"? Well, here are a few dos and don'ts and explanations as to what I have learned (some by trial and error and others by tons of online research) along the way:

  • Tell them you love them: Only if you truly mean it of course, but this simple reminder can be the difference between them feeling unlovable and feeling loved in that moment. They may "know" that you love them, but sometimes just hearing it can be enough reminder to stop the thoughts of worthlessness or being unlovable for at least that moment. 
  • Tell them you care: Once again, only if you mean it. These things can only be said if they are genuine. If you do not genuinely feel this way. Do not say it. You will cause more harm than good in the long run. Reminding someone suffering an internal battle that you care enough to hear what they have to say or not say can make a huge difference in their day. Just remember, this is a day by day and sometimes moment by moment process. You can't just be supportive one day and not the next if you truly want to help make a difference in this person's life. 
  • Remind them they they are not alone: If you plan to stay by their side and help them fight this battle, tell them that. Tell this person that you love and care about that they are not alone especially when they feel alone. They probably won't believe you the first few times you say it, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't say it--more importantly show it. Eventually your actions will prove your words to be honest, and they will be able to see that you really are there and not leaving their side. Eventually they will feel a little less alone because of this. Another related tip is using the word "we". When a person already feels alone and worthless, it can be detrimental for them to hear "you need to do this to get better" or "I feel like this because of something you have said or done". Instead replace these phrases with "we will get through this" or "we won't always feel this way". It helps solidify what they are already hearing from you in the "you are not alone" statements. 
  • Apologize to them for their pain without showing pity: Many times a person suffering from an internal battle will already feel like they should be able to just "snap" out of it. If you tell that person something to make them feel like you pity them or look down on them in any way, even with the best of intentions, you are solidifying that fact to them that they should just do better, or it will cause them to shut you out even more because they don't want to feel like you see them in that way. Also, do not say the words "I  know how you feel because I got really sad once when...." Unless you have been through the journey of depression, please do not compare your sadness to theirs. No offense, but your sadness is not the same as clinical depression. Depression often looks like happiness on the outside while a war is going on on the inside filled with self hatred and negativity like you can't imagine. A person with depression can take virtually any statement and find a way for it to be negative in their mind. Please be cautious with your words. Please think about how they will be received just as much as your point you are trying to make. 
  • Help do something: Often times we ask "what can I do to help?" or we say "let me know what I can do to help you", and we mean these things from the bottom of our hearts. We want to help. We want them to tell us what to do that can help us. A person who already feels like they should be able to "snap out of" what they're feeling or should be able to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders without batting an eye is very unlikely to give you a list of ways you can help them. Instead try this. Tell them what you are going to do to help. Tell them "I will be at your house Monday night at 6pm to cook dinner for you and your kids. I am going to make spaghetti. Is that ok?" Give them things you are willing to do and then let them approve of you doing it. Often times, they know that they need help coping with everyday tasks, but they can't admit it. Find a way you can help and do it. Do not wait on them to tell you what you can do. They will never tell you. 
  • Encourage an activity outside: Sunshine and Vitamin D can do a lot of good for a person's mental state. Encourage them to get outside and have some fun, or even go for a walk. Make the plans yourself. Tell them when you will be there to pick them up or where to meet you and just make it happen. Exercise and/or sunshine is a great way to boost any person's mood.
  • Ask them to help you understand how they are feeling: Often times, we want to know how they feel. We want to help, but we don't know what they are experiencing so it is hard to help battle it if we do not know what we are battling. This will not come easily at first, but someday after these conversations and more openness, you will find yourself picking up on different subtle words that help you know that this is a "bad day" or that a certain thought is stuck on replay so that you can help combat it with positive words or you can debunk the whole thought by reminding them all the ways it is not true. For example, the thought is telling them "you are a bad mom because you woke up late today." We all know that just because on one day this mom woke up late that that does not make her a bad mom. Well, in her mind, she cannot see that. This is the thought stuck on repeat that day, so battle it. Remind her how she woke up early every other day of the school year and that one day of oversleeping does not make her a bad mom. Remind her of all the good things she has done that prove she is a good mom. Battle this thought until it cannot possibly be true. 
  • Hug them: This is something that I am possibly going to contradict myself on. Hug them when they need it. Hug them when they want it. Do not hug them if they are trying to hold themselves together in that moment. Hug them because so much energy can be exchanged in a hug. I think that hugs are one of the most genuine and real forms of showing another person your love. You can feel the weight being lifted during an embrace. Do not let go until they are ready. Always let them be the first one to let go. This may sound simple or something you've never thought of, but make sure you are giving them all of your love that they need. Do not stop before they are ready for you to. However, if you are around a person on a day they are trying their best to "hold it together" for whatever reason. Maybe you can see the pain in their eyes, but they're at work or in front of their kids or maybe they're just tired of crying--whatever the reason, please respect the fact that they are not willing to let go and let you hug them in that moment. They may be doing their best to not fall apart. Do not force anything upon them. Everything has to be what they feel comfortable with in that moment. 
  • Laugh with them: Thanks to the internet, sharing a joke with a friend on a bad day is one of the easiest things to do. Ecards are a great example. Blow up their phone with funny nonsense. You don't have to always have deep conversations or discuss the issues going on. Some days you can just focus on being silly and laughing. Even if they are shut down that day and do not have the energy to talk. They can smile because of something you have said or done or sent them. Give them a reason to smile or laugh--find your own way to do this. 
  • Reassure them that you can handle this with them: Often times, they are so busy beating themselves up internally that they think that there is no possible way anyone else could or would want to endure this with them. Reassure them that you are here. You are strong (and so are they). You can handle hearing how they feel. You can have tough enough skin to know that what they feel isn't personal to you--it is about their battle not about you. Let them know that you are willing and able to handle this with them (not for them). 
  • Remind them why you love them: Sometimes this can be a written list. Sometimes this can be a verbal recall to them of wonderful traits they have. Sometimes this can be a combination of the two. Say something like, "You are amazing because you have a beautiful way of putting my feelings first even when you are in pain. You are a great mom because your children always see your love even when you aren't able to love yourself right now. You are a strong person because you are able to fight everyday with a smile on your face. You have a beautiful smile that the world is lucky to get to see. You are loved by me because I can see how incredible you are. Someday I hope you can see the beautiful person I see when I look at you. Some day the rain will stop, and we will bask in the sunshine together. We've got this together."

  • Don't ask or expect them to "get over it": They are already feeling like they shouldn't feel this way and should be able to "snap out of it". Do not make them feel like they should just "get better" without going through a process within themselves of finding self-love. Do not say it, but more importantly do not show with your actions that you want them to just "get over it".
  • Don't say "I know how you feel": It is good to show empathy, but please do not assume you know or understand if you haven't already been there. Show them you want to know how they feel more than you already do. Do not assume. Let them show or tell you. 
  • Don't tell them to "cheer up" or "just smile": They are fighting a constant battle inside, and it is exhausting. They are tired sometimes and can't just put on a fake smile or "cheer up". Please don't expect them to. Let them know that it is okay if they don't feel like being cheery right now. It is okay if they don't want to fake it with you, in fact, consider yourself blessed to get to see this real side of their journey instead of the facade they put on for the world day in and day out. Instead, thank them for letting you seeing them like this. Please know that it means they feel safe with you if you see this side. If they are showing you this, please do not dismiss it by telling them they need to be acting a different way. 
  • Don't make them feel judged: Many times people do not seek help for their struggles because they feel like no one could possibly understand what they are going through. They believe that because they are fighting this battle alone that no one will understand or be willing to try to understand their battle. Help them see that you do want to understand. Help them see that you support them and do not judge them. They feel like everyone will look down on them and see them as weak. Remind them that they are not weak. By reminding them that they are stronger than most for fighting these battles daily, they will eventually start to believe it. Remind them that what they feel is okay. They are allowed to feel however they are feeling in that moment. Remind them that there is an end someday. Remind them that you will be by their side when skies are full of sunshine and rainbows someday. They are allowed to feel the way they feel. They just need your encouragement to not always feel that way. Help them focus on the positive without judging them or making them feel pressure to change the negative. It is a step by step exhausting process, but I promise the clarity found along the journey is a beautiful thing. 
  • Don't tell them "it's all in your head": They are fully aware of what is in their head. They do not need a reminder, and even if you do tell them this and they agree with you that does not change the fact that it is in their head, and they still can't snap out of it. This is counter productive and will end up hurting them or causing them to shut you out even more quickly. 
  • Don't tell them "There are people out there with it worse than you do": This is the biggest one for me. It breaks my heart that people say this to others--depressed or not. If someone is sad or upset or hurting, telling them that other people have it worse off does not in fact help them--at all. There are people richer than me, but that doesn't change the fact that I am paying my bills with the money I do have. It does not change their lives that they are still using their money to pay their bills. It is the same. No matter what anyone else is going through keep the focus on their personal journey and how they are doing, not comparing them to the world. 
There are many ways to help and these are just a few that I have picked up along the way. The most important piece of advice I could give is that you just need to open your ears and heart to listen to what this person is telling you with their words and actions. Be perceptive. Be aware. If a person tells you that something you said triggered a negative thought, do not dismiss that as "well that's not how I meant it". This journey is more about how they hear things than it is about what you meant. Keep in mind how things will be received more than how you mean them. A person with the best of intentions can end up doing more harm than good simply because they are not paying attention to how their words are being received. Open the lines of communication. Encourage this person. Let them know that you are here--genuinely, and then fight the battle along with them. Do not say any of these things unless you truly plan to be there for this person. It's okay if you aren't the right person to stand by their side during their journey--as long as you don't tell them you will be. It is better for them to fight alone than to fight without someone who said they'd help fight with them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment