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How to Help a Hurting Human – the “Dos”

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year that has engendered a lot of pain in a lot of people. Furthermore, the holidays are now approaching quickly, and many people struggle during the holiday season during years that are otherwise not quite as  challenging as 2020 has been. Without a doubt, you know someone who is hurting, and most likely, you’ll be getting some practice on what to do and not to do when interacting with them, and I want to help set you up for success.

Last week, we covered four “don’ts,” things we should avoid doing when interacting with a friend who is hurting. This week, I’m sharing a few “dos” to help you and the person you’re communicating with navigate potentially difficult discussions, so you come away feeling like you honored them and didn’t add to their pain, and they feel like you added value to their life (or at least didn’t make it worse!). Here are three things you can do:

DO

Listen. When someone talks to you about their trials, whether the trials are physical, emotional spiritual, relational, etc., just listen. You don’t actually have to say much. You can let them know you’re listening by occasionally telling them some version of “I’m with you.” Or you can ensure they know they still have your attention by making eye contact (preferably not with glazed-over eyes). Nod and/or make sympathetic noises. Occasionally confirm that you understand by saying a version of, “It sounds like you’re saying ______________, is that right?” You’ve got this: speak less, listen more.

DO

Minimize Your Exposure

  • If you can’t resist minimizing the other person’s issues, minimize your time with them. You can do this tactfully, if you try, and it may preserve your friendship. We can’t stay in the mud with someone else forever. However, I urge caution here: if you value the person and the relationship, don’t abandon them. Just make the visits farther between and shorter. I have recently discovered the value of scheduling particularly challenging people to meet at a location an hour before it closes. Disclaimer: It doesn’t mean that’s always the case when I schedule late appointments – sometimes it’s because I only have an hour and I really want to spend some time with the other person, even if we have to be brief. But this scenario takes me out of the hot seat for finding a way to end the conversation if I simply cannot endure much of it and I don’t want to further tax an already-hurting person’s feelings.

DO

Steer Them Toward Help

  • Sometimes the other person’s crisis lasts a long time. Hopefully, if this is the case, they will seek professional help, or, as I’ve referred to it, hire a “rent-a-friend.” There have been seasons in my life when it began to feel to me (and most likely to my friends as well) that I was sucking the life out of my friends by dwelling on the negativity in my life every time I was around them. I realized I needed a “rent-a-friend” to listen and help me sort out my junk before my friends wisely jumped ship and renting a friend was the only way I’d have one.  There is no shame in finding a qualified counselor to help us when we’re in a rut, and it may well save the relationships we value and hope to still be a part of when the darkness abates and the sun comes out again (and it will come out again).
  • If you are close enough to the hurting person and their issues have been going on a while or you think they’re sinking in quicksand, AND if you can do so from a place of love and concern for their best interest, you may be able to recommend they find a counselor.
    • Before you take this on, be very honest with yourself about your role in the person’s life. As a counselor, it would not bother me if someone I know loves me told me they feel like it may be time for me to seek help from a counselor. That said, not everyone in my life has earned the right to speak into my life at the same level.
    • Be gentle, loving and cautious with your words. Getting professional help can be very scary and may make your friend defensive if they’re uncomfortable/unfamiliar with counseling. They may feel like you’re calling them crazy and pretty much no one wants to hear that. Employ wisdom and loads of grace and love here.
    • If you’re a super-duper-amazing friend, and you’re in their inner circle, you may even come to this conversation with the names and numbers of a couple of counselors you’ve researched, who seem reputable and seem to share the other person’s values.

I hope these pointers help you breathe a little easier and enhance your relationships by equipping you with (or reminding you of) some ways you can best be there for those you care about who are going through a rough season in their lives.

Keep in mind, you’ve probably been that person at one time or another, and you may yet bet that person in the coming weeks. Wouldn’t it be nice if the people you talk to, especially your closer friends, had these tools in their pockets, too? Well, they can; feel free to like and share last week’s post and this one!

I look forward to reading your additional suggestions in the comments!

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