8 Tips On How To Be A Support To A Person In Need


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How to be a support shouldn’t be hard; but amazingly, it is.  With as many friends and family that exist, it’s hard to see how a person in pain could still be left feeling lonely and abandoned.  There are many reasons for this:  low self-esteem, practices that people are used to growing up, etc.  However, the main reason is because people just don’t know how to be a support.  Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t grow up with supportive families and friends.

Not to get angry about at the above statement, this is what I mean:  there are many people that grew up under the ‘pull yourself up by your boot straps’ mentality.  Many people had to learn to deal with pain and hardship instead of being their for someone’s pain and hardship.  Because of such, we’ve failed many.  Hence this article.

Because of what I went through myself, I know what it’s like to want a friend listen and have compassion, only to be preached at and put down.  I used to think it was just me that was ‘no good’.  Later, I realized that it wasn’t me.  People just don’t know how to help.  Therefore, here are 8 Tips – that I wished I had – that I learned in an effort to help me be a good support.  Therefore, I’m sharing it with you.

1. Listen

This one shouldn’t be hard; but, you’d be hard-pressed to understand why this task isn’t so simple for the average person.

Most of these tips, that are listed below, will bleed into the other, but one of the reasons that people don’t listen is because they find pleasure in condemning your actions, they love being the advice giver, or they genuinely want to be a help and support.

Why?

The first two reasons make the person feel more superior to the person who’s hurting. The final one is because some people are really helpful. They
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love helping, but some people (definitely, not all) are so eager to help with the problem that they don’t listen to the problem.

Even with this eagerness, many can miss the target mark. The ‘target mark’ that many should be worried about is the actual person who needs support. Sometimes we miss ‘how they are doing,’ ‘how they are feeling,’ or ‘what they are thinking’. Many people feel if they can just erase the problem, they can erase what’s ailing the person.

It’s not that easy.

People who are depressed, saddened, in a hard relationship, going through a hard time, etc. want to know that you care about them. They want to feel that you are interested in helping them. They don’t want to feel that you see them as a burden. They want you to take time with and for them.

In addition to that DON’T INTERRUPT.

I can’t help but to mention that it goes without saying that it’s imperative to not interrupt the person who’s speaking when they are trying to tell you about their woes.

On more than one occasion people have not been able to get their point out because the person that they are having conversations with keeps interjecting their opinions on what the suffering person should do.

How in the world can you help someone when you are making it difficult for them to speak because you’re interrupting or talking them down?

How can you help someone when you keep giving them advice on what you “think” they are saying?

How can you help someone when you have cookie cutter advice?  In other words, as soon as they say “A” you say “B”.  You’re not stopping to think about what they’re saying, you’re not processing what they are saying.

Who comes out feeling helped?  Do they come out feeling really understood. Or are you patting yourself on the back because ‘you feel’ that you’ve done them a service?

Stop and learn to listen.

2. Refrain From Condemning

Amanda and Claude were married about three years; however, it didn’t take her long to realize that her husband wasn’t exactly a go-to person when she needed a strong shoulder.

Being a Christian woman, Amanda noticed that she had an infinity for something that she didn’t feel was exactly Christian-like. They were very careful with the things that they did and the movies that they watched. Once, upon renting a movie that had a powerful message, she found there was a scene in the movie that was quite unnecessary and quite ‘arousing’. Catch my drift???!!!

While she didn’t watch the scene over and over again, she couldn’t un-see what she had seen, as a result, she found herself thinking about that particular scene – over and over – and even being excited by it.

After struggling and feeling guilty about where she was allowing her mind to go, she decided to shine the light on this issue and open up about it to Claude. Since she considered him her friend as well (at that time), she would be safe, right? Additionally, she knew about Claude’s various weaknesses and he wouldn’t be judgmental. Or so she thought.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Upon telling Claude about the fact that she had been meditating upon that arousing scene that they watched days ago, his response was:

“You got turned on over that scene!!!!????” he asked, denouncing her. Needless to say, his response was very damning and put Amanda on edge.

“Claude, I was already nervous about telling you that. I told you that as a friend, not to make me feel guilty. I already feel guilty.”

“How else did you expect me to act?”

“If that’s how you’re going to respond, that’s gonna make me not wanna tell you things.”
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“YOU DID THAT!!!!????”
“HOW COULD YOU FALL FOR HIM or HER!!!!????”
“You didn’t know that you had to make that decision? You weren’t born yesterday?”

Or

“You’re supposed to be the bigger person. Why didn’t you take the lead?
“If you were where you were supposed to be in life, you wouldn’t be facing this!

It’s hard to believe that sometimes we ask questions and make statements such as this, but we do. It’s harder to believe that we don’t understand why people don’t want to open up to us if we respond to people this way. We seem genuinely surprised.

At any rate, when people open up to us regarding their personal issues, heartaches, or mistakes that they’ve made, they don’t need their loved ones making them feel guilty. The ‘you should have known better’ mindset is not going to help them. As a matter of fact, it’ll help them close
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up even more and that’s not healthy for them.

Finally, it surprises me every now and then how people really seem to love to condemn.  Some people like to condemn when there is nothing to condemn.

“The reason you attracted unwanted attention is because you smile too much.”

“The reason your boss treats you poorly is because you ‘must have’ done something wrong.”  They can’t tell you what they did wrong, but you just did something wrong, as far as they’re concerned.

Condemning is not the conducive to helping someone else.

3. DON’T support the bad guy

This seems like such a joke, but believe me, it’s not. Time and time again, I have seen people make excuses for people who were guilty while holding the person that’s hurting to a higher standard.

“Maybe he/she didn’t mean it like you took it.”
“You have to try to understand where they are coming from.”
“Perhaps they grew up in a difficult life. You don’t know.”
“They went off on you? Maybe they just don’t know how to express themselves.”

All of the above may very well be true. As a result, it may also be true of the person who’s hurting and seeking help.

When people have been wronged or are in pain, they don’t want to hear you give an elegant soliloquy about how innocent a guilty party may be. If someone comes to you for help, they are not in the mood to hear you dismiss their concerns in favor of the ‘knife bearer’.

Another point that I must admit, supporting the bad guys (or girls) tells the wounded party that you’re not interested in their hurts; their feelings; or what they have suffered as a result of someone else.

Like it or not, this is also called victim-blaming.

4. Don’t Be Biased

I saw the following statements online and agree with them wholehearted:

Additionally, a friend and I were talking about biases. We were discussing how some people are so convinced of their own points that they never stop to consider anything that anyone else has to say.

There have been some issues that I was etched in my brain that was right and wrong. As I began to get older, I realized that not everything is black or white. For example, in marriage, when one party was being lazy or withholding the emotional affection, I was taught, “If you give more, love more, be an example more, you will eventually be repaid.” In other words, if you were the bigger person and gave, they’d give to you in time. I learned that many people said this without even thinking about it. They said this without even listening to what your real issues were.

Another example:

Paula and Jud had been married for two years and she was being driven crazy. Jud was not the type of man that likes to deal with issues. He avoided them like a plaque. His family didn’t deal with problems when he was growing up. When he started dating and even married Paula, whenever issues came up, he promised to deal with them later. This was his way of avoiding the conversations. He never intended to bring them up again.

One day, during a serious talk with his wife, Jud used his favorite escape route. As his wife began to talk about issues that were piling up and not being handled, Jud said, “We’ll further discuss this later.” Frustrated Paula walked away. She knew she couldn’t make him talk. He had done this during their dating life and now it followed them into their marriage.

She didn’t like his irresponsibility to handling problems, but she had been told by friends, mentors, mediators, and even Christian leaders to be patient with him. “He’ll change,” they promised her. He didn’t show any signs of changing.

The next day when she went to work, she called one of the female ministers at her church about her home problems, how they were escalating, and how he was avoiding them. This same female minister ’s, who happened to be her friend, answers surprised her. She said, “If my husband said that we’ll discuss it later.”

Shocked and appalled that this ignorance was being transmitted to her ears, she tried in vain to tell her minister friend that her husband was very different. It didn’t matter what Paula said or how she pleaded. This minister friend wasn’t listening to anything she said.
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The reason the minister-friend wasn’t listening was that she was taught a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. That was the general meal that was fed to a frustrated wife. Nowhere was it taken into consideration that maybe, just maybe, Paula’s husband had a problem fulfilling promises, being responsible, handling hardness, or any such like.

Another bias that Paula later found to be true is that the leaders in her church felt that they were always right when it came down to giving advice. Since their advice comes from God, there was no way they could be wrong. The minister-friend saw it one way and wouldn’t consider another point of view.

Nor did she consider Paula’s grief.

As time went on, I learned about social emotional/controlling behaviors. I learned about narcissism, passive aggression, misogyny, misandrist, sociopath, other low self-esteem traits and some psychopaths. I learned when dealing with these types of people, they won’t reciprocate you no matter what you do.

Therefore, if you’re dealing with an individual who is suffering as a victim from dealing with a controlling individual, holding on to biased stereotypes won’t be beneficial to the person who’s actually in need.

Seeing things from only one point of view is not helpful to anyone.

It means that you’re not listening.
You’re holding on to one view, in spite of the evidence.
Being biased means you are possibly not being fair.
Being biased means you are possibly not being objective.


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5. Try To Get The Person The Necessary Help

I have a real-life example to give on this, but instead, I’m gonna go fictional:

There was a book that I read (I cannot remember the name of it) where a woman was dating an abusive, controlling police officer. As he became more and more abusive to the main character in private, she seemed ‘crazy’ to everyone else publicly –, especially to her friends.

Eventually, he attacked. He beat her, raped her, and left her for dead. She was fortunate enough to remain alive to be able to get help, but her trouble was about to continue.

Upon going to the hospital, she told the doctors, the nurses, the psychiatrist, the police what had happened to her. In spite of the bruises and rape, they didn’t believe her. Why? Because he, the abusive police officer, told them that she had done it to herself. Sadly, she found that her cries fell on deaf ears because they all believed him. He was the police officer and, to them, she was the crazy woman.

To add insult to injury, the police officer didn’t go to jail for assaulting and almost killing her. He went to jail for perjury. You see, when they asked him if he knew her, he said no. In this book, he received two years for that lie. That was all of his punishment in that matter.

Betrayed, the main female character moved to another city.

Now, I’m gonna fast forward a bit. Upon moving to a new place, a gentleman who would become her friend, who also just happened to be a psychologist, noticed that she had symptoms of OCD.

Upon becoming her friend, she fearfully confided in him what happened. She was very apprehensive to do so; because those in power ignored her before. Even her own friends, who had known her for years, didn’t even believe her. How was this new friend any different?

He was. He found her an excellent psychologist to help her through her issues.

If you’re asking why couldn’t he do it as he was a psychologist, too? He would explain that it would have been a conflict of interest, but he helped her get help. He was more of a friend than the friends that she had for years.
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That book was unfortunately too real for me. It talked about people who are manipulative; people who can turn your own friends against you; and, the most important point, those who are in power to help can ignore and fail you. It was a real struggle to read that book.

Nonetheless, there was one person who was willing to extend themselves. There was one person who cared enough about the main character to help her get the help that she needed.

Perhaps, you don’t have what the person needs. Instead of giving useless advice, condemning, changing the subject when they speak, or not saying anything, try to get them the help that they need.

On more than one occasion, I’ve reached out to mentors and mediators on the behalf of someone who needed help. It wasn’t about me. It’s not about you. It’s about getting the person the help that they need to get through their hard time so that they may be successful.

Disclaimer: I’ve also learned the hard way that not everyone can help everyone. If you are referring a person along to someone else, make sure you can stake your reputation on the qualifications of the person who are referring them to. I also have been embarrassed by trusting someone who had their own agenda.

6. Cheer Them Up (Go for Coffee, Talk, Be friendly, Walk together, Help the Person Out)


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I like coffee; or even glasses of iced tea. Being a depression sufferer, getting out of the house is not at all easy. Depression or not, when
people are suffering, they are married to their troubles (not meaning a literal spouse); as a result, pulling them from their issues is ideal.
Going for coffee is relaxing, soothing, and it opens both parties up for talking. As you will later read, don’t monopolize the conversation. Coffee can be what you want but it is mainly for the person who needs it.

Talking and taking a stroll through your neighborhood or park is great for removing the tension. There have been times when a friend and I would walk to the park and just sit there. Talking. Absorbing the weather. Relaxing. Removing ourselves from the day-to-day. It was wonderful. It was amazing. I don’t need to say that it was summer.

Again, some people need to be pulled from their circumstances to rejuvenate and take time for themselves.

They need to be reminded that THEY matter.

7. Don’t shove advice down their throat – Don’t Monopolize the Conversation

Once, I remember, that I went to a mediator that I thought I trusted for some advice. You see, I was dealing with a heavy matter and I didn’t see the ended of it in sight; so, I humbled myself and went to open up to someone who I considered a mentor.

I wish I hadn’t gone to talk to them.

I wish I hadn’t expressed myself. Not only did the person condemn me for having the nerve to be hurt, but I never got an opportunity to tell my story. Why? Because a few seconds into the conversation, they started giving me advice as to how I should proceed.

Additionally, she was really sympathetic to the bad guy – a problem that is a serious pet peeve for me.

They started to give me advice as to how I should proceed with the issue that they couldn’t be bothered to listen to. They talked over me and talked me down. They began to take the conversation in a whole ‘nother direction that I wasn’t going in. Again, they thought they knew ‘without’ having to actually listen to me.

That was the breaking point. After trying to get back into the conversation that they kicked me out of, I asked:

“Snowflake, can I say something?”
“NO!” they replied quite authoritatively and quite condescending. “When I finish!”

When they finish?????

I don’t have to tell you how floored I was. I literally had to struggle to get into a conversation that I had brought to them in the first place. A person who is suffering shouldn’t have to fight to be heard.

Again, she treated me harshly that I had the gall be hurting while making excuses for the one who was throwing the actual stones. Something is seriously wrong with that logic.

Consider this: If a doctor does that, he/she would be considered unprofessional. They would also be brought up before a medical review board due to prescribing before diagnosing.

Sometimes, some of us as friends, family, loved ones, teachers, preachers, etc. think that we know so much because of our experience that we don’t have to listen to preliminary details. If we were really so smart, we’d know just how important listening is. We’d also know how excessive advice giving in quite annoying.

Sometimes people want you just to listen. Just that. Listen. Additionally, as I have said before, some people want and need you to be there for them.

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8. Try to understand where the other person is coming from

Often we say we listen, but do we really listen? Really? How often have we heard that people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. How often have people poured out their hearts to us, but we were just seething waiting for them to shut up because we wanted to give our magnificent advice? Or, how often have we interrupted a person from finishing their stories because we were cutting them off with what we wanted to say?

If the person was sharing something they needed to get off their chest, how did we help by constantly cutting them off?

Sadly, some people don’t see what a person is suffering UNTIL the same problem stops at their door.

I hope there was something in these 8 tips that could help you be a better support.


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13 Comments

  1. Great tips.
    You remember I asked you how someone can deal with abusive relationships and you said support groups right?
    This post helps one understands how to support a friend in need.
    CHEERS!

  2. Hi Lane, What an insightful post. You have really given food for thought. My husband has Lewy Body Disease, which is a brain disorder. It is at the stage where he does not know who I am. While he was still able to function, we went together to a Counseling Group for people with Dementia but found the Counsellor talked about her problems all the time. It was not at all helpful. The only way I can be with my husband in any meaningful way now is to go at mealtimes and feed him. It means so much to me, even if he doesn’t know me. Listening is the most important thing one can do for anyone.
    Thank you for this great post.

    • You are welcome, Jill. I am so sorry for what you are going through. I sure it’s hard watching someone that you love diminish.

      While I know that we all need help, it sounded like your Counselor needed a counselor. In group, people need to express themselves – which is why they come to group.

      By God’s grace, I will be praying for you. Those little moments are important and so is listening, like you said.

      Lane

  3. This is great information. I have tried to help a good friend in need. If there is one thing I learned was, I could not provide her with advice she did not want to hear. It frustrated me so much. But you are right, you cannot shove advice down their throat or give it if they do not want to listen to it.

    • YOU ARE SO RIGHT.

      Several years ago, I had a few friends who all (separately) reached hard time. I went out of my way trying to help them. They cried about wanting/needing help, but they had no problem jumping on me when I tried to help them. The truth is, they didn’t want help. They didn’t want to do the work to change their situation. They wanted to waddle in their own self pity and blame everyone else. Now if it was depression, then I totally understand, but in reality they just blamed others.

      You are right about not being able to provide advice that others don’t want to here. Nor can you shove it down their throats.

  4. Thought provoking post!
    I admit that I was the person who never listened but was waiting for a gap in the conversation to interject my opinion. That version of me had low self esteem.

    These days, I work hard on loving myself, and I find that makes me a better listener and support person. I no longer ‘need’ the spotlight.

    Thank you for these reminders that there are plenty of ways to care for someone in need.

    • Hi Irma,

      That’s very thought provoking. I know a few people – even well to do people – who need the spotlight. I would never have pegged it as low-self esteem. That’s a great lesson for me. Thanks for opening up and for your growth. I wish you continued success.

  5. Hi Lane, I think this list is full of great tips for somebody who has someone close to them suffering from depression, or any other mental illness for that matter. The truth is, most people have no idea how to help and therefore end up making things worse with flippant comments or condescending advice.

    I think you need to choose who you open up to wisely as some people will secretly relish in your pain, often it’s just a distraction for them from their own pain when they do this and it makes them feel better to know that others are suffering too. These are not the people to talk to of course, and if you suspect this then close the conversation down quickly.

    The problem with human most beings, is often they are self focused (it’s only natural of course), and they will listen for so long and then shut down, get bored, or turn the conversation towards themselves. I don’t even get offended by this, I just choose my friends wisely, and if I can’t find anyone appropriate to talk to then I meditate, exercise to burn of stress, or spend time with my dog. These things are simple, yet really work well for me.

    • Your comments . . . . wow!

      The first paragraph hit the nail right on the head. I truly learned the second paragraph the hard way. We are self focused. We can be different if we work on ourselves. I have seen people shut down, get bored, get flippant, feel far superior ’cause ‘you’re the one that’s suffering’. It’s amazing. Sometimes, it’s amazing that many people suffer so much with so much knowledge.

      I hope this site helps people.

  6. Great article, Lane.
    Very poignant actually. Your points are very salient and touch so many emotional ‘triggers’ and I loved it. You have to really put yourself in that person’s shoe and pretend that it is ‘you’ and how you would like to be treated. It really is all about the ‘relationship factor’ as well and the ‘heart or love of the brethren’ – the care factor.
    We need to remember our own imperfections and this will make it easier to help others when they come against their own.
    Thanks for the suggestions, tips/advice.
    Michelle

  7. As usual Lane, you have given some really great advice! Even I struggle to be a good listener sometimes, jumping to conclusions… It is very easy to do, but when we do that we are not really hearing what that person is really struggling with.
    I liked your story about Amanda confessing to her friend Claude. It is so real! People who we claim to be our friends are not always friends when serious matters come up like that one. It is sad to say, but so many people don’t really know how to cope with someone else’s problems, so they brush it off making a joke out of it. Not the best way to handle someone who is genuinely needing your support.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this subject. I learned something today!
    Best wishes,
    Devara

  8. Hi Lane, this is another very helpful post and I like all the tips you give on how to support another person suffering mental abuse.
    Listening to someone is so important and it’s good that you pointed out listening is not listening if you don’t take the person’s pain and concerns seriously, that there is more to it than just hearing and reacting to what the person confiding in you is telling you. But I have the impression that fewer and fewer people are able to offer that sort of support partly for the reasons you listed and partly because society is becoming more superficial. You are always expected to keep smiling regardless of how you feel and not talk about anything negative. Consequently, people have lost the skill to deal with their own and other people’s pain and hurt.
    With your article, you really get right into this problem and I’m sure it will help everyone who reads it.
    All the best, Sammy

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