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What Not to Do when Supporting Someone

Have you noticed that it is common to consider that support is something that really isn’t? “Everything will be fine,” “don’t be upset,” “this is not the end,” “I’ve told you…” – this is not what real support is.

When people feel really bad and are faced with strong emotions, grief, trauma – they do not want to hear all these simple phrases that do not carry any meaning: standard condolences, silly advice, and empty promises. They cause only irritation, a feeling of complete loneliness, and total misunderstanding. It is great when a person with grief can turn to a specialist for support. But it is not always so easy and affordable. And according to a study conducted in China, it turned out that most people who are in a difficult life situation or suffer from depression choose to seek support from friends (78.7%) and relatives (75.6%).

Therefore, it is essential to be able to support your loved ones truly! Unfortunately, there are no universal rules suitable for any occasion. But there are things that definitely do not need to be done because they do not help in any way and do not mean support.

1. Empty promises. 

“Everything will be fine,” “everything will work out,” “life will certainly get better” – these are empty promises. You cannot know for sure what awaits us in the future (unless, of course, you are a psychic), and in this wording, you also emphasize how bad it is now because it will become good only in the future.

If you don’t know what to say, be silent, be close to the person, and just give a hug. You will be surprised, but one of the most effective ways to support people is just a warm, friendly hug.

2. The taboo on emotions.

“Don’t cry,” “you don’t have to worry like that,” “calm down,” “pull yourself together,” etc. If you really want to support a person, and not just get rid of him/her, you should still help them show their emotions, and not suppress them. It’s not new to anyone that restrained emotions destroy us from within, turn into illnesses, and poison our lives. Any person has the right to grieve, be angry, feel offended when they are in a difficult life situation. We turn to friends and relatives, not when we want to look like adults, be smart and strong, but when we just want to be ourselves.

Therefore, if you want to support or comfort someone, allow them to talk about their experiences.

3. Depreciation of other people’s problems.

“It’s not worth your tears,” “it’s not the end of the world,” “nothing really happened,” “it is just your experience,” etc. If you do not understand the feelings of another person, and how their experiences are arranged, this does not mean that this person does not suffer. And even the fact that “kids starve in Africa” or “there are those who are much worse off” does not make their suffering less. But the worst thing is that depreciation does real harm. A person ceases to feel significant and relevant to you, feels unnecessary, not understood, and loses the ability to trust. By the way, psychologists attribute depreciation to one of the components of emotional violence.

4. Useless tips.

The fact that it is extremely important for any person with a problem first to speak out and be heard is an obvious thing. Not to get wise advice, not to listen to instructions, but to express and put what he feels into words. And then, do not forget that the advice is right for those who give it, and cannot be at all suitable for those who get it. And the advice addressed to the past (“it was necessary to do so”) is the most meaningless thing that can be said. Everything has already happened, the past cannot be changed, and history has no subjunctive mood.

5. Evaluation comments.

“You had to think earlier,” “but I warned you,” “it was so obvious,” “you should not be so naive,” etc. It is clear that this is not support. This is standard self-assertion at the expense of a weak and more vulnerable person. Avoid evaluating the behavior of a person in a difficult life situation. You are not in his place, and you do not know what it really means to this person. The best thing you can do is express sympathy and approval; this will give a person real support and strength to cope with his misfortune.

P.S.

The best way to support a close friend or family member is simply to be close, listen carefully, and hug warmly. Do not evaluate or depreciate, do not interrupt with your comment and conclusions. All that is needed is lively participation and warmth – an opportunity to express your feelings, emotions, experiences. 

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