I do like to be helpful! When someone is finding life hard, I love to be able to suggest ways of making it easier. But it’s important to remember that we all walk our own path. I might think I know what will help, but I’m not living their life, with their lessons, their approaches, their beliefs. My view is only my view, from my perspective.
So how do we help others? I have had a to of help from friends over the last few months, so it’s obviously possible!
To begin with, we need to be in a good state ourselves. If we are OK in ourselves, we remind others at an unconscious level that there is that space to be OK, that it exists. We’re like the light at the end of the tunnel, saying: ‘You can come through this.’
Also, if we’re OK, we don’t need them to make us feel better by taking on our suggestions, our solutions. We’re not so invested in sorting it out for them, in order to make ourselves feel like a good person.
Then we probably help most by just being there to listen. By allowing someone to talk about their issues without judging or interrupting, whilst paying them proper attention, we give them the space to express it for themselves. This both relieves the pressure of it going round and round in their head, and often helps them to unravel it a bit for themselves. We call this being a witness – someone who is just there with you, supporting without interfering.
Now, as a witness, you have a different perspective from the person who is caught up in their story. You may notice that they have the problem out of proportion, or that a possible resolution is sitting there in their description, or that, if they looked at it from a different angle, it would feel different. Telling them what you notice can be helpful, but remember, they may not be ready to accept what you’re observing, and that’s OK.
Similarly, you may have ideas about what might help from your own experience of similar situations. And it’s good to offer them up as possibilities, but again, you have to accept that they may reject them – your ideas may not resonate with them in their story.
Finally, practical simple help can make a big difference. You may not be able to help with the problem, but you could read through that document they can’t make sense of, or get that thing from the shops for them so they’ve one less thing to think about, or just take them out for a coffee so they are literally in a different space for a little while.
When it comes down to it, being helpful is all about creating some space where someone has the possibility to sort it out for themselves. We can’t do it for them, but we can give them the room to begin to find their own way through.
And thank you to all my friends who have been so helpful to me in a time of turbulence!