It’s difficult and rare for most people to appropriately “be there” for another person in distress. Steve Goldberg offers some key tips come to mind for being more helpful towards another during challenging times.
Let me start with a personal story of my own. I had not seen Janet, a new acquaintance of mine for several months. One evening I ran into her. I mentioned I had not seen her for quite awhile and asked how she was.
There was a pause… She then said she was going through some personal issues. I saw tears forming in her eyes. It became very quiet between us. She then informed me that she had lost her son to cancer…
There was a further pause to let all this sink in and I then asked if I could give her hug. She looked right into my eyes and then said yes. I gently hugged her allowing her to take the lead. She hugged back tentatively and then more strongly and more tears flowed. She then whispered to me… “You’ve been there”… I shook my head and acknowledged that, yes, I had. I said nothing more.
We both needed to move on. I told her if she needed anything to not hesitate to be in touch.
Several weeks later we met and spoke more about her son, the grief we both were experiencing (I had recently lost my dad and my mom was terminally ill) and the support we provided each other.
We spoke about how hard and rare it is for most people to appropriately “be there” for another person in distress. From this experience four key tips come to mind for being more helpful towards another during challenging times:
• Be present and responsive. Let the other person take the lead. Like many things in life, less is more; we rarely need to say very much; what is key is giving the other person space to respond as they see fit.
• Be careful about assuming what the other person needs. It is very easy to be way off.
• Watch your own emotions and personal history be stimulated by another’s’ challenging circumstances. Be careful not to use this as an opportunity to talk about your own challenges. This happens much more than you think; often in our haste to let another know “we understand”, we slip into our own stories or ideas of what would be helpful
• Allow for pauses. In our busy, overfilled lives, we often become uncomfortable with quiet; allowing for quiet pauses can be one of the greatest gifts for being present and supportive to another.
Further exploration of this topic can be found in a soon to be released TED talk by Israeli born Hedy Schleifer. Hedy is a brilliant and insightful relationship expert who speaks eloquently about the “Power of Connection”. A copy of this talk which can be found below:
Steve Goldberg is the co-author of Finding the Upside: Practical Wisdom for Challenging Times. You can read more about and purchase the book at: www.findingtheupside.org
“Hands” courtesy of Niagra Grief Centre