Updated: Nov 29, 2021
We like to help. It makes us feel good and useful. And when we can't help, we feel uncomfortable. So most of the time, when we see someone struggling, we offer ideas, suggestions, solutions, and relatable anecdotes about how we've experienced something similar. And also most of the time, this doesn't help. WHY?
Because most of the time, when we're struggling, we really don't WANT solutions; we want to feel HEARD.
When if comes to asking for/offering help, there are typically 4 ways to ask for it or offer it: 1. "I just want to be heard." This means I just want you to hold space for me, truly tracking me as I process my struggles. I want you to validate my emotional experience even if you don't understand it, relate to it, or agree with it ("wow, I can see this is really upsetting you" or "gosh, I can imagine I'd feel hurt too," or "I'm sorry this is really hard for you"). (Note: this is what most of us want most of the time...simple, eh?) 2. "I just need a shoulder..." This means I just need your calm, regulated body next to mine to help me regulate. It might mean I want a hug (I'll ask!), or it might mean that I just want you to share space with me on the couch while we watch a movie together in silence. It might also mean that I just want you to quietly pat my hair while I sob for a while. 3. "I want suggestions, solutions & ideas." In this case, I am clearly and specifically asking for you to help me brainstorm a solution. I WANT ideas and relatable experiences. (NOTE: This is often our go-to when we see people in struggle...although it is quite rarely the kind of support people actually WANT!) 4. "I need a reality check." This one is only to be used with trusted friends or supports...and it is asking for an authentic yet loving and non-judgemental feedback. The response might sound like "well.... you might be blowing it a tiny bit out of proportion," or "might it be better if you cooled down before you reacted to the situation?" If we can learn how to use this type of language with the people we love to ASK SPECIFICALLY for the type of support we want, I wonder how much more supported we might feel??? And, how much nicer will it be for our loved ones: we're basically taking them off the hook for not having to solve our situations when all we really want is to be seen/heard?! And... notice your impulse when you see a loved one struggling: do you jump to #3 reflexively? If you look a bit deeper at your pattern of reaction, I think it might reveal more about you trying to sooth your OWN discomfort than theirs.