If you have someone you care about who is going through a difficult time and you don’t know how to help, this is the post for you. I’ll start with a quick guide on how to interact with them effectively, then dive into examples of what not to do in order to illustrate common mistakes people make when trying to help others.
Emotions -> Mental -> Physical -> Heart/Spiritual. Help in that order (if they’re going to live. If you’re watching them die, Heart/Spiritual only). This post is about how to help specifically Emotions.
Be Present with them. First is to meet them where they are, not where you are. Set aside your own thoughts and emotions and sync with them by taking on their thoughts and emotions using mirroring and empathy and understanding. The key here is to let them create the reality, and let them let you join the reality that they are in. Listen and follow. Don’t contradict, don’t impose your reality on them. If you’re here to help them, you don’t matter. They do. Let them dictate. Let them live their way. Let them breathe without you cutting them off.
Gain their trust, use that trust to help them. After you’ve shown respect for what they’re going through by listening to and hearing their emotions and feelings and world view at that time, you can begin guiding them out. The key here is that you can only guide with details that are true for their reality. Here word choice is very critical because a misuse in diction can lead to them spiraling out of control. This concept is best illustrated with examples.
Let’s say they are very tense and you notice their left hand tightly gripping their right arm.
Don’t say: relax. Because this statement is way to vague and does not adequately communicate your intention at all
Don’t say: stop that. Because not only is this statement vague, but it is you asserting authority and control over the other person, rather than respecting them as someone who can make their own decisions.
Don’t say: be kinder to yourself. Because not only is this statement vague, it’s judgmental and accusational: between the lines is “what’s wrong with you.”
Don’t say: what’s wrong with you? Because this is blatantly confrontational and puts them on the defensive. You are launching an attack declaring that the other person is wrong, and asking them to defend themselves against you.
Say: Can I say something I’m noticing? Because this is asking them permission to do something. It shows respect and keeps them in control of the situation, which is what you want to be the case. Don’t take the power from them when they are in a weak state. That’s bullying.
If they say no, don’t say it. If they say yes, then you can say: I notice that your left hand is gripping your right arm. Because this is a NON JUDGMENTAL way to provide them with information. DO NOT PROVIDE THE SOLUTION because then you take away their power to think for themselves.
Depending on how they respond, you can either agree with them or disagree. If you disagree, do it this way. Say: Can I tell you what I think? For everything that you’re about to do, clearly state what it is you’re going to do, and ask for permission. Allow them to maintain control. If they don’t want to hear it, don’t tell them. Respect their right to control their world. Do not impose yourself through force power abuse inconsiderateness, etc.
If they give you permission, say: I want to help you feel better. I would imagine gripping your right arm that tightly with your left hand would be painful and exhausting. However, does it make you feel better to do that? The KEY structure in the communication here is 1. intent (I want to help you feel better) that is selfless (A selfish intent would be: I’m stressed out looking at your tight grip, can you stop it. Don’t make it about yourself, prioritize the person you’re trying to help). 2. You explain YOUR point of view using language that clearly emphasizes that you are describing your point of view. This is critical. Never under any circumstance describe their reality on their behalf. That is taking away their power, that is disrespectful, that is fundamentally wrong. You are not them. Do not describe them. Describe you, let them describe them. 3. Ask for their point of view. Concede that they may have a rational reason for behaving that way. Don’t use a backhanded statement to be judgmental (“I’d never do that” would be a judgmental arrogant statement that evokes a “looking down at the other person” feeling that is not helpful). Accept them for who they are at the moment.
Accept. Ask for Permission. Aid them not yourself.
Part 2 to come later