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How to Listen to a Friend Who is Hurting

Any night of the week we can turn the TV on and hear heart-breaking stories of tragedy and loss. This past week was no exception with the devastating tornado that ripped through Oklahoma.

No words can express the horror of such an event; deep feelings of compassion and sympathy go out to all who have suffered.

As that tragedy unfolded, we saw helpers in action and listened to the sufferer’s talk about their loss while tears welled up in their eyes. In their grief they expressed gratitude to all who had eased their burdens, sometimes at great personal sacrifice.

I was both touched and moved. If you are like me, you might have felt an urgency to provide aid, if only through prayers.

We don’t need the evening news to know there is suffering. We need only look into our own hearts and the hearts of those we love, to recognize pain is unavoidable and is so much easier to bear with the help of others.

When we’re called upon to help a friend who is hurting, stories of others’ heroic service may come to mind, and cause us to feel inadequate, preventing us from reaching out. It isn’t necessary to be heroic; but being there, in whatever way we can, is important.

Other thoughts that might keep us from being there for our friends are…

What do I say?

How do I fix it?

I want to help but I don’t know what to do.

I’m shy.

I’m afraid their emotion will overwhelm me.

They’re so strong; they can handle anything.

I want to be there, but feel guilty because I can’t give all of my time.

I have too many problems of my own to be of any help to anyone.

If they won’t listen to my advice, I’m not going to talk to them.

Suffering is one thing all human beings have in common. We all know what it means and what it feels like. Individually, interpersonally, and globally, we are united in our desire to alleviate whatever pain we can.

Helping loved ones bear their burdens is the single most powerful act of peace we can perform. It not only helps those who are hurting, but gives us a sweet and powerful energy that enlarges our soul.

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When someone you know is hurting, you can…

 Just be with them.

Offer a hug or hold their hand.

Allow them to tell their story. Getting it out will help them begin the healing process.

Listen to understand. Be patient. Validate their feelings.

Offer empty space. Sometimes silence along with support is what is needed.

Be genuine and sincere in word and deed.

Offer to help.

Check on them often and ask how they are doing.

Make eye contact and ask questions that show you care.

Treat them like a whole person; not a victim.

Things NOT to do…

Ignore them.

Tell them your story.

Say you know just how they feel.

Be judgmental or moralize.

Offer false hope or try to paint a pretty picture.

Tell them how well they are doing. It usually doesn’t help and will make them feel like they can’t tell you how they are really feeling.

Tell them it’s time to get over it with pep talks.

Try to solve their problems. It doesn’t allow them to grow or heal.

Don’t ask questions unless you have time to stay and listen. It’s patronizing and is insincere.

Don't force a butterfly out of it's cocoon prematurely

Don’t force a butterfly out of it’s cocoon prematurely

Some important things to understand about helping a friend…

You can’t fix it.

Understand your friend is not likely to be thinking clearly or able to listen to advice.

The only way to get through a problem is to go through a problem.

If you try to help a butterfly prematurely come out of it’s cocoon, it won’t survive.

~Self Care~ Hyacinths to Feed Your Soul

~Self Care~
Hyacinths to Feed Your Soul

“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,

And from the slender store two loaves

alone to thee are left.

Sell one and from the dole.

Buy Hyacinths to feed thy soul”

~Sadi

Caring for yourself while caring for others

Remember, this is not about you.

Know your limits. Don’t say you will do something you can’t.

Don’t be shocked by what they say in the depths of their emotion.

Don’t hold on to anything they say.

If your friend rejects your help, don’t be upset. Sometimes it takes a lot of offers for the hurting person to feel safe enough to open up.

Respect your friend’s privacy, but have someone you can talk to, to help you deal with your own feelings.

Make sure you take care of your own needs so you can take care of others.

Remember you are offering a part of yourself on your terms. You are in charge.

I asked my friends on Facebook to share what they thought was most important in listening to a friend who is hurting. Here are their responses:

Benjamin wrote: “Listening in a non-judgmental way. Eye contact, nodding, asking follow up questions, and other gestures that indicate that you are listening and that you do care. : )

Richard wrote: “Love them.”

Pam wrote: “Not telling them what they want to hear, but kindly helping them find the solution from with inside themselves.”

Shauna wrote: “Not being judgmental or critical but loving and understanding. Let them know that you will still be their friend through the good and the bad times.”

Jenny wrote: “I like it when people not only respect the difficulty I’m facing as a challenge (rather than something simple that I should get over) and also express what they see that is good about how I’m handling it, which makes me feel more positive about facing my challenge. (e.g. It sounds really tough to face______, and yet you keep working at it, and if you fall down, you always get back up.)”

Richy wrote: “It’s not about waiting for your turn to talk so you can give advice…it’s about just being there to listen. People often don’t want advice; they just want to talk about it.”

Shirley wrote: “No matter the visual cues you give, actually engage your mind and heart. Think and feel the words. One thing that doesn’t help me is to say, “I love you.” I’d rather have someone show that love instead by listening. The issue isn’t whether someone loves me, it is whether someone can help bear the hurt.”

Heather wrote: “Not trying to make something that is not okay, okay. Sometimes you just need someone to commiserate with and not to make it better. Just someone to talk it through with because sometimes just having someone to talk it through with, will help you figure it out.”

Mike wrote: “Being real with them…people can tell if you don’t want to listen to them or are not being genuine.”

What do you think?

Have a great week and don’t forget to share your thoughts with our community of readers.

Until next time…

Shine on 🙂

Barbara