When we see someone else struggling, our natural response is often to try to fix them or make them feel better. We are uncomfortable in the presence of someone else’s suffering.
But by rushing too quickly to hand out a tissue (which stops the flow of tears) or correct someone who makes a critical statement about themselves (which denies their feelings), you might be doing more harm than good.
Therapy group members often try to rescue and relieve each other from moments of pain by giving advice or providing comfort. Other times, we notice people just kind of “zoning out” when someone else is expressing their pain, because it just feels too awkward and uncomfortable.
In families, this issue becomes even more complex. Parents feel responsible for their children – isn’t it their job to shelter and rescue their child from pain? This can become an all-encompassing quest that is not healthy for either person.
So just how do you help someone else without losing yourself, and when should you stop helping so you don’t lose the other person?
Whether it’s a serious issue like an eating disorder, or a temporary reaction to a specific situation, encourage the person to seek out help and support from a professional. When it’s clear that it’s someone else’s job to help your loved one heal, you can concentrate on supporting them through the process. Supporting someone is a beautiful way to help.
How to support? Often it means not having the answers or the right words or even any words at all. It means simply listening, witnessing what the person is experiencing, even when it’s painful, uncomfortable, or extremely negative stuff. If you can validate their feelings and just let them be, you’re helping them process and heal.
By strengthening your own capacity for this discomfort, you will also experience your own emotional growth. You’ll be better able to tolerate and process your own uncomfortable, negative feelings – without using disordered eating or other harmful behaviors.
This important self-care strategy will improve your relationships and make sure they don’t drain you. You don’t have to take care of or rescue anyone else – your goal is to treat yourself (as I very often share with my clients!) and others with kindness and compassion, and to speak the truth.
If you’re really struggling with how to handle someone else’s problems, then consider some counseling or therapy for yourself as well. One-on-one personal guidance goes a long way towards helping you deal with this situation.