How to Support a Loved One Through Tough Times
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
Every now and then life throws you a curve ball. Your best friend gets cancer, your wife loses her job or your daughter breaks up with her first high school love. In these trying times it is important to support your loved one’s and be a rock for them to lean on. But this can be harder than it sounds, especially when you are emotionally affected by the event as well.
In this post I want to show you a few ways to support a loved one through a tough time based on my own experiences. Hopefully it will give you a bit of inspiration for when tough times strike your loved ones.
Dealing with feelings of helplessness
One of the most difficult things about supporting a loved one through a tough time is how utterly helpless you feel. You might be the person’s mother, father, sister or brother – it doesn’t matter – when a loved one is suffering you feel helpless.
Imagine if your spouse was diagnosed with a serious illness tomorrow. This is the person who you have loved and supported for years and years. Someone with whom you have cried, laughed, fought and made love. Someone who has been there for you whenever you were down. And now they are sick. And there is nothing that you can do to change that.
It is a shit feeling.
But it is just a feeling. It is in your head. And it is natural. So let this be a warning to you. When tough times strike someone you love be ready for those feelings of helplessness because they will always arise. But don’t let them get you down. If you let them get you down you won’t be any help to anyone.
How to support a loved one through tough times
Now I would like to get into the bulk of this post and share with you some things I have learned over the years about how to support a loved one through tough times. I am by no means an expert on these matters but it seems like I have spent a considerable part of my life trying to support friends and family who were experiencing some hardship. I’ll try to pass on what I have learned.
When someone is suffering because of a mistake they have made the last thing they want to hear is your judgments. It really doesn’t help the situation at all and, in fact, can make your loved one less likely to come to you for support.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say your daughter is in high school and she has just fallen in love with the football quarterback. You think he is a bit of a “player” and you know your daughter is going to end up heart broken. After a few months he cheats on her and she comes home in tears, her heart is broken and life cannot go on. If you decide to say “I told you so” she will never come to you again because she is afraid of being judged. The pain she is going through is lesson, she doesn’t need another one from you.
When people are going through suffering because of mistakes they made it is a bad idea to judge them. Just be there for them and don’t inject your values or opinions in the situation unless they ask for them. 99% of the time they won’t want to hear them.
Don’t make it about you
When I was a young man I was fanatically in to soccer. I played for one of the top teams and took it extremely seriously. I would get up and train at 5am every morning before class and then had training at the club after school four times a week. I lived and breathed soccer. And when the finals came around I became what I now consider to be a bit of a monster. I was crazy. I trained so hard and stressed out so much. So you can imagine how I felt when we lost the grand final because I missed a penalty kick…
I will never forget that day as long as I live. When I see my old soccer buddies they still ask me if I have been practicing my penalties! It burns. And I will never forget sitting in the car with my father after the match and hearing him jabber on for what seemed like an hour about how he had been a great sportsman as a teenager and that even he had made mistakes. I really didn’t want to hear about it.
When I look back I realize that, in his own spastic way, he was just trying to help. But at the time it seemed like he just wanted to talk about how much better he was than me. And it made me really angry. When someone is suffering it is really important not to talk about yourself too much. Even if you have been through something similar to what your loved one is going through it is a good idea just to keep quiet. Make sure you just support them. Don’t make it about you.
Take care of yourself too
If you are going through a long term tough time it is important that you take care of yourself as well. If you neglect to do this you will be a tired and emotional wreck and you will struggle to support those around you.
When someone in your family gets sick everybody goes a bit crazy. They mobilize the relatives, take time off work and run around like headless chickens. And this is understandable. A family illness is one of the toughest things anyone can go through. When something tragic is happening people don’t want to stop and sit down because then their mind will automatically turn to the bad stuff. Keeping busy means keeping distracted. But you have to take care of yourself.
If you are going through a tough time make sure you are sleeping properly. Make sure you are eating properly. Make sure you are taking care of yourself. If you get run down you will be less able to support your loved ones.
Get yourself some support
One important part of supporting a loved one is getting some support for yourself. Many people who are helping people through difficult situations neglect to address this issue. And it is a shame. You cannot do it all alone. You cannot take on everybody’s problems without having an outlet. It is just too difficult. If you try to do it alone you could end up breaking down yourself.
I tried to take on a lot of my family’s problems when I was younger. I tried to be the knight in shining armor that saved the day and I tried to be everybody’s rock. But there was a limit to how much I could handle. There was a limit to how much I could absorb without bursting. It is important to acknowledge these limits.
If you are spending a lot of time supporting a loved one I strongly recommend you go and get some counseling. Don’t be afraid to do this. Counselors are not for crazy people. Counselors are for people who need someone to talk to without having to worry about weighing them down with your problems. If your loved one is suffering you might feel like you can’t talk to them because you don’t want them to have more worry. If this is the case book in to see a counselor and have a chat, debrief and get some advice on how to proceed.
Find a source of inspiration
Something that religious people always say after a tough time is that their “faith” got them through. While many non-religious people may find the notion of relying on “faith” to be off-putting there is an extremely good logic to it. If religion is good for anything it is good for giving one strength. But non-religious people can find other non-theistic sources of inspiration to help them reach the other side.
Some people find inspiration in God. Others find inspiration in the Dalai Lama, Gandhi or Oprah. They rely on these people or the ideals that they represent to give them strength. The strength could come from praying to this figure or by just recalling their example and feeling revitalized. During tough times I always find inspiration in my Bodhisattva Vow. This is a vow I was given by my Buddhist teacher where I promised to spend my life working for the benefit of others. I promised to dedicate every thought, word and action to the benefit of other sentient beings and never to put my own selfish pursuits ahead of the needs of others. This gives me great strength during tough times and I feel has made me better equipped to deal with hardships.
Take some time to find something that inspires you. Inspiration is not just for religious or spiritual people. Basketball players, great leaders, doctors, nurses etc. – they all have sources of inspiration that they rely on when things get tough. Make sure you have one too.
Learn as much as you can
Knowledge is power. It is also a powerful way for you to support someone. The more you know about what they are going through the more supportive you will be able to be.
Imagine your wife or husband has depression but you don’t know much about it. You might take all the symptoms to be attacks on you and just think they are just being moody, grumpy or mean. In actual fact they are suffering from a disease and the mood swings and angry responses are symptoms of their illness and need to be dealt with carefully.
If you educate yourself on the problem, whatever it is, you will find yourself better able to deal with the person and more able to support them. This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you.
Bring everything back to love
Love is an extremely potent thing when you are feeling terrible. In all situations, whatever your loved one is going through make sure they know they are loved.
When you are depressed, sick or sad the best thing in the world is knowing that someone loves you. It might be someone telling you that they love you or you might see it in the way they look at you or the way they treat you. However it is expressed it is very uplifting to know that you are loved.
Make sure you bring everything back to love when you are supporting a loved one. If you don’t quite know what to do just make sure you love them. Make sure they know you love them. Many times you will find that this, in itself, is enough.
Supporting a loved one through a tough time can be extremely difficult. It can be tiring, emotionally draining and sometimes depressing. But it is in these trying times that we learn who our closest friends and family members are. This is where the true bonding occurs and allows us to take our relationships to new heights.
If anyone has any advice, stories or tips for supporting a loved one through and illness or dark time in their life I would love to hear. Please leave a comment – it might really help someone who reads it.
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