Have you ever broken a bone or known someone who has had to drudge around for weeks on end with an oversized healing mechanism that the doctors like to call a cast? Well, being in a stage of life that's hard is nothing like that. In fact, facing depression, heartbreak, or lack of direction is quite far from that type of cookie-cutter healing process. Sure there are general steps that everyone can take to work through these issues, but at the core, every person is different and has unique needs when it comes to being able to heal.
You might be thinking why did I make that parallel then? Because from my experience when I tell people that I am in a stage of questioning things or wonder what the meaning of life is they all react with this vague sense of zombie-like similarity. They all seem to think that there is a single medical like solution, and the internal wrestling match that I am having isn't unique. It is as though people assume the best way to be empathetic to me, means belittling the struggle I am facing. This is not a response that helps anyone most notably me. Yes, the perpetrator may have gone through a similar time in their life. But at the end of the day, they are not the same as the one going through the struggle. There may be similarities but to assume that all of the millions of variables align just like the stars do for soothsayers is quite belittling and ignorant, to say the least. Sadly, I have been the victim and the perpetrator of this unfortunate ability.
So the following steps are ways I believe we should all respond to someone who is going through a hard time. I think for men this is important to be supportive and patient and not to try and fix everything. I am one who hates seeing people whom I love in pain, so I often find myself trying to help fix situations. I think this article is more for me than anyone else.
1) Stop trying to give advice and start listening.
Really, though. Stop assuming you have something useful to say and listen to the person in front of you. Genuinely provide them with an ear to talk to.
This is a huge deal to listen and not speak. Advice giving can be a damaging thing you can do to a relationship. Check out this article I wrote on advice giving. Click HERE
People just need to be heard. I hold a personal belief that if we all had more friends who genuinely sat down and asked thoughtful questions and listened rather than trying to give input, the need for therapists in society would decrease considerably.
So, a quality way to stop divulging advice and start listening better is to ask thoughtful questions, or just repeat back to your friend what they are saying to in your own words. For example "What I hear you saying is that your parents are overbearing, and you want to move out is that right?"
I hope you take the time to listen and ask good questions to your friends who are in hard times.
"Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply."
2) Don't assume you know where they are at in life.
Contrary to what it may seem, if someone is spilling the sorrows of their life before you, chances are you are not getting the whole story in complete context. So before you start externally expressing your opinions about how you have been in a similar struggle, just slam on the damn breaks and count to three. Once you have regained control of your brain, try hard to figure out if you cannot relate to the situation, like look for ways in which you are not similar. Then ask yourself that maybe if you were to show genuine empathy what would it look like in this scenario since you don't necessarily know what they are going through. I will say attempting to relate is an entirely reasonable response; I just think it is important to know that the chances of it being a one hundred percent match of similar situations are minuscule.
When you say you can relate to your friend's hardships, there is a possibility you may have indirectly communicated that their struggle is insignificant, and they need to get over it.
So next time your best friend or co-worker starts spilling their guts at your feet take a moment to realize they are going through a unique hard time that you probably cannot relate to, so give them what they need most, a loving friend who is present with them in their struggle.
"There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend."
~Katharine Butler Hathaway~
3) Be honest.
What I mean by this attribute is the following. If you do not care about the person or do not have time at that moment to listen to their trials and tribulations, communicate that. Tell them right now is not the best, but tomorrow over lunch you would have time to listen.
There is nothing worse that someone who is divulging the struggle of a lifetime to another individual who now feels burdened by the moral obligation to listen and console the afflicted because that is the right thing to do. If you care but do not have the time or do not care figure out a graceful way to communicate it. Take a moment to calculate the situation and then eloquently communicate honestly where you are at.
I think if we all take these simple steps the world could possibly be a small amount better.
"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."
What are some things people have done that hurt when you were in hard times?