The Dos and Don’ts of Caring for Those Who are Hurting
No one likes to see someone they care about in pain. It can be an overwhelming desire to want to comfort the hurting, but our well-intentioned attempts to lessen the pain often increase it. I have talked to countless people who have heart-wrenching stories of pain inflicted on them by those trying (and failing miserably) to comfort them. I myself have been crushed by the things said and done to me by others desperate to help me feel better.
This post, The Dos and Don’ts of Caring for Those Who are Hurting, is intended to help remedy this disconnect between our desire to help those we care about and our ability. Unfortunately, good intentions are simply not good enough. It is time to clue in and take it upon ourselves to become equipped to effectively care for those who are hurting.
1. Do listen, don’t talk
People in pain have a lot to process. Processing is complicated by the emotional roller coaster they are on and depending on how much pain they are in will depend on how long they stay on that roller coaster. Allowing those who are hurting the freedom to talk as much or as little as they want is important. Listening comforts. Giving them the freedom to share their feelings on their terms, letting them repeat themselves, and letting them cry, laugh, yell, and not be themselves is essential to conveying that you love and support them. Talking does not comfort. Most of the time well-intentioned words only add to the pain.
If you must say something say only “I’m so sorry,” and “I am here for you”. Do not say, “Everything is going to be ok” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Rationalizing away pain is counterproductive in every respect. It doesn’t matter what you think, it only matters how they feel so give them the freedom to feel. If you truly desire to be a comfort to someone in emotional pain simply be quiet and listen.
2. Do take the initiative, don’t wait to be asked for help.
Hurting people are afraid to burden others with their pain. If you just step back and wait for them to tell you what they need they most likely never will. Truthfully, they might not even know what they need. Emotional pain is confusing and when something hurts emotionally our first response is often to feel embarrassment or shame for “taking it so hard.” Don’t compound these feelings by stepping back. The needs of the hurting person will evolve and so should your support. Put the needs of the hurting person first and check your ego at the door. After all, this is about them, not you. Don’t take it personally if your help is not acknowledged or even rejected. Use maturity and wisdom and be respectful. If you are specifically asked not to help, honor that request, but if no such request is made than help away. Show you care by taking the initiative to help without being asked.
3. Do commit for the long haul, don’t disappear after six weeks.
I don’t know what it is about the six week mark exactly but it is somewhat of a phenomenon. After my daughters died in 2008 people came out of the wood work to console me for the first six weeks and then as suddenly as they came they were gone. Many others I have talked to experienced this same six week phenomenon. It is almost like at six weeks people feel “off the hook” so to speak and return to their own lives.
I was blessed though to have a small handful of friends and family who did stand by me for the duration. They remain by my side to this day. Their long-term support benefited my healing more than any other factor.
If you want to truly support and comfort someone you care about that is hurting walk beside them for the duration. Don’t stand by them on your time frame, commit to their time frame and stick it out. Many factors will define what that duration will be exactly and it differs for everyone, but the security of knowing they have someone to depend on for emotional support not matter how long it takes is a hurting person’s greatest comfort.
4. Do be empathetic, don’t be judgmental
The best advice I ever got after my daughters deaths was to give my husband the freedom to grieve his own way and not compare his grief and way of expressing it to mine. This is exceptionally wise advice across the board. It is notour job to judge, compare, or measure another person’s response to pain. Each person is different and will therefore have a unique response. There is no right or wrong way to handle emotional pain and offering our empathy instead of our judgment is the best way to be supportive.
5. Do send a gift, don’t send flowers.
Sending or bringing a gift to show your love and support is a beautiful way to comfort someone in pain. Hurting people need to know others are thinking of them and that they are not alone. There are many thoughtful gift options, but I’ll be frank, a bouquet of flowers is not one of them. Everyone who has ever sent flowers since the dawn of time I’m convinced meant well by doing so, but meaning well is not enough. It is so widely accepted in our culture to send flowers that I don’t think anyone has ever really stopped to think it through. The problem with flowers is that they die. The comfort they provide comes to a depressing end when the petals fall off and the stems wilt. If your intent is to provide real and lasting comfort do the more thoughtful thing and send a gift that can’t die. Don’t send flowers.
I hope this post helps you care better for those who are hurting. Have questions? Email me.