The phrase pull yourself up by your bootstraps, was actually coined as something that is not possible to do. But somehow in our culture, it got turned around. Go ahead, grab a pair of boots, put 'em on, and try it for yourself. Pull on the boot straps. Nothin', right? No movement. You can pull all day long and those boots will stay put. We weren't put on this earth to figure out life by ourselves! That phrase was meant as a reminder not to try to 'do it alone.' And that phrase makes even less sense if we don't even own a pair of boots to begin with. This attitude only keeps people who are struggling, struggling more because it deepens the shame about where they are. In my situation, it was just not possible for me to navigate the stormy waters alone.
So, what's the most challenging part of working through a challenging time? For me, after immense loss, it was knowing who I could reach out to that could actually hold space for me, so that I didn't have be alone. I was Humpty Dumpty, totally in pieces spread out so far I didn't even know where to begin looking for the pieces of myself that were scattered. And there were very few people who could hold space for me in that time. Everyone else would say things that, although they meant well, cut me to core. I've learned so much through my challenges, and part of my learning was about how to hold space for others in their challenges, no matter how big or small.
Here are few things people said and will still say when I share my story, that leave me feeling dismissed and unsupported.
The very hardest thing someone would say is, "Everyone has gone through hard times." While that may be true, that does not discount the fact that my time is hard and I am looking for support and empathy. What I learned from this statement, as I looked at the lives of those who would say it, is that they have never hit rock bottom, so they don't actually know what that experience is like. They have not had all sense of stability and security stripped out from underneath them. This gave me compassion for them instead of bitterness and resentment, because how can they be empathetic when they've never been there?
Consider the possibility that everyone is entitled to their story and telling it is actually an important part of their healing. So, when someone tells their story, they are not really looking for you to do anything but listen and empathize. So, if you only remember two things, consider them to be the following: don't discount their pain by saying that everyone goes through hard times and don't feel like you have to do anything to fix other people's situations.
What if we can trust that everyone is right where they need to be and having the experiences they are having in order to learn and grow and ultimately thrive. Our challenges are the catalyst for our deep inner healing. So often, people's purpose is born through their deepest suffering. This is how it worked out for me. I now professionally walk through people's deep pain with them. And I learn a lot from my clients. One of my clients inspired this post! I'd never be able to do that if I had not experienced such deep loss and the inability to put myself back together after my hard fall.
So, what does being supportive look like? Think of it as 'holding space.' You are just going to be a supportive container for this human who is having a human experience.
Some things you might say are,
"Gosh, I'm so sorry. I can understand how hard this must be for you."
"What would feel most supportive to you right now?"
"Would you like to talk about it?"
"I don't even know what to say, but I want you to know how much I care."
"What do you feel you can do to support yourself right now?"
What people need most is to be listened to and validated in their suffering. They need to know that they are not alone. And, if appropriate, they need meals and someone to watch their kids.... or other practical help. Never underestimate how helpful this can be! When we go through hard times, the daily necessities can become a major ordeal.
And if you can't offer a listening ear in the moment, that's OK! Just let them know that it's really important to you to support them and make an appointment for when you can. If someone needs more support than you can give, invite them to find a good counselor.
Something that I learned in my very trying times was that people only have so much bandwidth to support others. Getting professional help made a world of difference for me, and I found more than one professional to help me through it! I also began to surround myself with people who HAD hit rock bottom, because they are much more likely to be able to hold space for you when you struggle, because they've been there.
I use these questions with my kids, too. It gives them a sense of empowerment to know that they can choose how to be supported. If they are 'freaking out,' or 'melting down,' I'll ask them if they'd like to be alone or have me stay with them while they feel how they feel. I don't try to make them feel different from how they feel. If they want me to stay with them, I'll ask how I can best support them. I ask if they want to talk or just be quiet. Do they want to cuddle or just have me in their room? I ask if there's anything I can do to help them feel more comfortable. And most importantly, I ask them what they most need from themselves in this moment. We might talk about where they feel what they feel in their body as well. My younger one is especially open to this question. My teenage boys, not no much!
I don't ask it all at once, and I try to wait for the right timing for each question. I won't typically ask all of these questions in one sitting either. I just feel out each situation and then I look for their deep breath. The deep breath always lets us know that a person's pain feels validated and they feel OK about feeling how they feel. This one is magic with kids! See if you can find out what makes your child feel heard and validated. When they do, magic will happen!
What has helped you the most in your challenging times. I invite you to share in the comments below.
Maria Rippo is a Transformational Healing & Wellness practitioner with an online as well as
a local practice in Bothell, WA. She is an Advanced Clinical Hypnotherapist and Holistic Coach, but mostly, she is a human figuring out how to navigate this thing called life. This article Copyright 2016 by Maria Rippo, all right reserved. To replicate or use any portion of this article, please do so in its entirety including this text or contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.