I’m not claiming any authority on the subject here, but I couldn’t think of the next “How To…” and Jon felt this would be a topic I could shine some light on. Here are his reasons, as dictated:
“Being able to leave me alone when I am mega-ill and having people around is annoying, but still bring up teas. Understanding that sometimes I have to give in to my knees when they fuck up but other times I will try to power through it. Letting me decide what the problem actually is and how bad it is. Knowing when to shut the hell up, when it’s a problem that can’t actually be solved immediately. Not overtalking big or distressing problems.”
So, how do I do my best to be supportive?
1: Think of them first.
All too often, people seem to think they’re being helpful and supportive when in reality they’re only thinking about themselves. Discard all concerns such as “How will each eventuality impact me?”, “What would I do in this situation?” or “What would I find the best thing?” You don’t necessarily have to put yourself in their shoes (the heavens know some of us can’t do that), just discard any idea of helping yourself and any idea that they are like you. Instead, listen to what they want and look at the situation objectively. How can you help them get what they say they want?
2: Wants vs Needs.
You have determined what their situation is and found out what result they want or what they want to do. Now is the time to work out whether their course of action gives them the result they want, or whether what they want to do will harm them. Sometimes it is necessary to be that second voice mentioning the outcomes they hadn’t considered and the necessary evils they dare not face.
3: Avoid smothering.
But even when you’re sure that you’re acting in their best interests, don’t smother them. Be the voice offering counsel, not the nag. Be the person bringing tea and snacks, not the one looming over their face. Be the assistant, not the effective captain. Give them their space to deal with their own issues.
4: Prevent patronizing.
The next step is to make sure that you don’t patronize them either. Making yourself scarce when they have accounts to do, an interview to prepare for or some rest to catch up on is good. Treating them like a stroppy toddler rather than an adult with real problems is not good. Make sure you aren’t always checking their work for them, criticizing their approach, telling them off or being dismissive of their ideas and concerns. They are adult. They know best how well they feel, what their job entails, what they’re applying for and how serious their problem is. You aren’t being helpful by making light of it.
5: Build them up.
But, even though you don’t want to patronize them and make light of their condition or situation, you don’t want to indulge it either. You don’t have to be dismissive, rude or critical to know and show that their state is not permanent. You don’t have to pander to their state and make them feel like they will be forever chained down by it. Make sure to build them up. When they have a crisis of confidence, remind them of their original idea or direction or motivation. Go through their plans with them and work towards the goal they want to reach. Offer to do anything in your power to give them the time, space and energy to make progress. They won’t be like this forever and it’s your job to help them out of it.
Using steps one and two, look at what you can do to help them through your actions. Using steps three and four, make sure you’re not being rude or inconvenient. Using step five, do anything you can to help them move away from whatever trouble they’re facing. When you’re not sure what you can do, ask them how you can help or what they need you for. And that is how you can be supportive.
When have you had to support someone? What do you wish you had done better? What advice would you give to someone who wants to support a loved one? Feel free to share your anecdotes and advice in the comments.
TTFN and Happy Hunting!