At some time in your life, someone you care deeply for...
A friend, a loved one, a coworker...
Will face an adversity that proves life-changing.
And you will want to reach out...
To offer your hand in support, a hug to comfort, and an ear to listen.
And yet, many won't.
Not because you don't want to be there for the other person...
You do. You want to respond.
You just don't know how.
You may tell yourself that its ok...there are plenty of others who can support, hug, and listen.
And that may be true.
But it won't change the regret will you feel for not stepping up...
Or the disappointment you feel in yourself for not being what the other person needed.
I know this because, just as everyone else has a story...
I have one too.
And this is a part of mine.
A PERSONAL NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
I never used to be very good in highly emotional situations.
They always made me feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps it is because I have never been a terribly emotional person myself.
I am not saying I don't get emotional...I do...
But, I became adept at putting up walls that dampened the degree to which I was affected by these feelings.
Over the years this became a habitual behaviour for me.
So, as an adult, when I learned that someone close to me faced a life-changing situation...
My heart DID ache for them.
But I felt awkward and I didn't know what to say or how to respond.
So I said nothing. I did nothing.
And while sometimes silence is the most appropriate course of action, this wasn't one of those times.
Now, many years later, I still feel pains of regret.
Perhaps this is why I have committed so many years of my life helping others to develop the "human" skills I lacked so many years ago...
So when others are confided in...
When they learn that a 2% incident has turned their loved one's life upside down..
They know HOW to respond...
They know WHAT to say...
And they can be there for that person knowing, with confidence, that they are doing what they need to do and being who they need to be in that moment.
You see, there will be plenty of moments that may cause you to experience regret in your life...
But this will NEVER need to be one of them.
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PROVIDING SUPPORT TO OTHERS IN TIMES OF CRISIS
When someone we care about faces a crisis, and there is nothing we can do to "fix" the problem...
We can be left feeling powerless..possibly angry at our own inability to take the pain or fear away.
Yet, when we provide support for that person...
When we show compassion or understanding, and try to comfort them...
We are doing exactly what we need to do.
So, if you need some guidance on how best to do this, regardless of the circumstances, here are a few suggestions drawn from Cooperative Action...suggestions I have learned to use myself:
ACCEPT THAT IT HAPPENED
Acceptance isn't as easy as it sounds.
When our loved one receives the diagnosis or becomes the victim of a crime...something often happens.
The second-guessing and self-blame begins.
"If only I exercised more when I was younger..."
"If only I hadn't walked home alone that night..."
"Why didn't I drive a different route to work that day?"
This is a sure sign that while the person may have acknowledged what occurred, it hasn't been accepted.
Acceptance means that the situation is perceived as a fixed moment in the past...one that cannot change now.
This means that all of the second-guessing and self-blame in the world will change nothing.
Unfortunately, few can move past the 2% incident until they accept it.
Help the other person to accept.
If they begin to travel down the self-blame road, gently guide them in a different direction.
Make sure you don't feed the second-guessing, but rather help them to identify how they can choose to move forward (if they are ready for this).
Now, I don't want to sell this step short...this step alone could take a long time...
But it is one of the most important ways we can support those who need us when facing a life-altering situation.
VALIDATE THE PERSON'S RIGHT TO FEEL AS THEY FEEL
A common mistake I used to make when trying to comfort a person who had experienced a traumatic event was to try to downplay the severity.
This isn't done to belittle the person who is suffering but is an honest attempt at trying to help them feel better...
And, perhaps, provide a little perspective.
It is important NOT to do this because what you are in fact doing is invalidating whatever it is that the other person is feeling.
You are telling them that it isn't ok to feel what they are feeling...that they are wrong for feeling that way.
The truth is that no matter what the other person is feeling, they have a right to feel that way.
Respect this right and let them feel the very real feelings they are experiencing.
If you can honestly relate, tell them.
If you can't, be honest and tell that that as well.
I have often had to say to others, "I honestly can't even begin to understand what you are feeling right now..."
But let them feel this way and acknowledge that whatever they are feeling is right for them.
REASSURE THEM THAT THEY ARE NOT ALONE
What makes a horrific situation even scarier for the person living through it is the thought that they are alone in it.
So, when possible, reassure the person that they aren't alone.
I am not suggesting you compare some minor situation you have found yourself in to their life-changing one...
But rather, remind them that (very likely) others have gone through what they are going through (even if you haven't).
Perhaps, where appropriate, you might offer to find someone who has survived a similar situation for the person to speak to.
The important thing is that the other person doesn't feel alone in what they are going through.
Simply knowing others have survived can provide a bit of hope that, in time, life will go on.
OFFER ADVICE ONLY IF IT IS APPROPRIATE
I mentioned earlier that when someone confides in us, we may experience a natural instinct to want to "fix" the problem.
The common way to accomplish this is by offering advice to the person suffering regarding what they should do.
This can be like adding oil to an already burning fire.
Quite often, when people seek support, they are NOT seeking solutions or answers...
They are, instead, seeking someone to talk to who will listen to them without judgment.
In these cases, offering up solutions will be considered inappropriate and not accepted by the other person.
You may mean well, but the person trying to deal with the situation isn't ready for this advice yet.
So don't give it.
Resist the urge to show them that you believe you know exactly how to fix the problem unless you are absolutely sure they are ready.
Instead, validate their feelings, reassure them that they are not alone, and listen.
REMEMBER, THEY DID NOTHING WRONG...
Lastly, if you do offer advice, make sure it is forward-looking and not backwards.
Don't feed any "could have...", "should have...", or "if only..." thoughts.
Doing so implies that a measure of fault lies with the victim...and you must never blame the victim.
Whether they are a victim of disease, crime, or randomness, it is critical to understand...
And reinforce to them...
That they did absolutely NOTHING wrong.
Walking down an alley didn't get them mugged. The decision of the mugger to commit a crime did.
No one deserves to have their life turned upside down by a 2% incident and they most certainly didn't do anything to cause it.
And when they didn't do anything wrong, the "could've", "should've", and "what ifs" become meaningless.
Most people, the 98%, want to genuinely help others.
But doing so isn't a skill we are all born with.
Sometimes, we need to be coached and guided so that we are able to provide the support our loved one needs.
The last thing any of us want to do is to do or say the wrong thing and make the other person suffer even more.
That is what Cooperative Action is all about...knowing what human skills to use and when...
And by practicing these skills, we can be there for those we care about with confidence that we are doing and saying the right things.
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