6 Steps to Remind Yourself Of When Offering Support For People Going Through a Hard Time

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Have you ever gone through a tough time in life?

Maybe you have dealt with a financial emergency, a new medical diagnosis, a broken leg, a period of depression or anxiety, or a devastating breakup.

As humans, we all go through tough times and constant change in this life. It’s inevitable that we will struggle at one time or another and go through numerous cycles of challenge.

As someone who has struggled hard at times dealing with a health condition, I’ve experienced firsthand different approaches to management and care in the most sensitive situations.  

I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t when trying to support people who are having a hard time and trying to heal themselves.

In this post, I want to discuss a few things that I wish more people would understand when trying to help people who are struggling with various issues in their life.

1. First Focus on Listening Only 

When someone you know (whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague) is really struggling with a certain issue and they come to you to talk or get advice on what they should do it’s important to understand that they first and foremost just want to be heard.

A lot of the time compassionate listening alone can really help the person who is struggling. 

Often, people just want to be heard, loved, cared for, and for others to acknowledge their struggle.

A lot of the time people just feel alone in what they are going through. This feeling of isolation and frustration can be half the battle.

If the person struggling wants to vent, cry, or discuss the crap they are dealing with then let them do that and just be there with them without judgment.

Tell them it’s ok to express what they are feeling and cultivate an environment that allows this. 

It’s important to resist the urge to tell the person what you think they need to do at the beginning.

You can offer suggestions of things to try when the person is ready, but usually, when someone first comes to you, they just need support.  

A lot of the issues we deal with in our modern society are mental and emotional. 

If it was the case that someone was severely injured, sick, or about to go homeless they most likely wouldn’t be talking to you.

They would be in the hospital or taking action to get professional help.

The best thing to do first is to focus on listening. Just listen. Listen with your heart, not your ego. 

Try to really understand what that person is going through and what they are feeling.

Resist the urge to tell them what they are doing wrong. Instead, just hear what they are saying without thinking about how you are going to respond to them. 

There is always more than the surface-level problem.

2. Understand That Their Path Will Shake Out How It’s Supposed To

Usually when someone comes to us for help or support our first reaction is to tell the person what they need to do based on what worked for us or how we interpret their situation.

This is often counterproductive.

This is because we need to understand that each person living on this earth has their own unique life path.

Our goal should be to help that person find their own best way forward, not the way we think is best for them.

If it’s the case that we think we know something that will really help, then by all means we should ask the person if they are interested in our opinion, but the will needs to be cultivated in the person who is struggling or else the suggestion won’t work.

At the end of the day, the person having a hard time will need to find their own internal resources and path forward that fits them best.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes people need to go through some crap in order to grow.

Each person has a life that is shaking out exactly how it’s supposed to. 

Often, pain can be a necessary motivator for healthy life change.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do but offer support and help them take the necessary action steps to get on a better path forward. 

The goal should be to help that person figure out what’s best for them, not what you think is best.

3. Determine How Severe The Pain & Suffering Is

Is the person really sick, injured, or going through extreme mental suffering?

Are they able to take care of themselves and function daily?

If someone is dealing with something more severe then it might be the case that they need help finding medical treatment or professional care to get them through the situation.

If someone is still able to function on a day-to-day basis but is just having a harder time than usual then this is where you can offer your support and suggestions to help them find their way.

I think it’s critical to determine how severe the issue is that the person is going through before responding. 

Different levels of severity will require different suggestions and responses. 

For example, someone who has manic depression will probably need medical help while someone who is going through a tough breakup will most likely be able to get through the situation without medical help. 

After listening and trying to develop a space where that person feels free to share, try to figure out how severe the issue is and if the person needs legitimate medical help or if they will most likely be able to get through the hard situation with just support and life changes. 

4. Brainstorm Potential Solutions to Test

After listening and determining if you can even offer any reasonable suggestions based on how severe the problem is, ask the person if they want to brainstorm some ideas to try.

Remember, you are just offering suggestions and ideas for the person to try. 

You should approach this brainstorming with a teamwork style approach not a dogmatic know it all approach telling them what they aren’t doing or what they need to do.

It’s important to realize that each person is unique and what works for one person might not work for the other.

If something worked for you, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for them.

Take a scientific approach to testing with them.

If you do start to brainstorm solutions with them the only way you are going to find solutions that help them is by really understanding the problem clearly.

You will need to understand the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical aspects of the challenging situation, not just the surface-level symptoms.

That’s why nothing will work unless you have already listened deeply and compassionately to the person. Once you understand them and the problem on a complete level, then you will be able to brainstorm better suggestions to try.

When brainstorming ideas the person can test to help them through the situation, remember to think outside the box. 

Different types of suggestions include:

  • Helping them find a doctor to get tests done
  • Trying out yoga, qigong, or meditation
  • Putting cell phone on airplane mode an hour before bed
  • Getting sunlight exposure in the morning
  • Including a time for dancing or singing in their day
  • Signing up for a community service project 
  • Joining a new club or meetup group
  • Starting a morning journal
  • A book recommendation
  • Helping them find a new job 
  • Showing them how to cook a recipe 
  • Connecting them with an expert 
  • Adding more play or an activity purely for fun
  • Researching scientific studies to determine what supplements or drugs might help

5. Know When to Motivate vs Nurture

It’s also critical when dealing with someone who is going through a challenging time period to know when it’s good to offer motivation and when motivation will be counterproductive. 

This all depends on how severe the situation is and the person’s temperament. 

If someone is very sick or depressed trying to motivate them is just going to make the situation worse. They need nurturing and love not motivation at that time.

Also, if someone is naturally disciplined and motivated but they are really burnt out, then motivation is not going to help them. 

In this type of situation, it’s clear that the person’s persistent rigidity, self-criticism, and workaholism have played a role in bringing on the situation, so more of that is not going to help.

Instead, this person will need help exploring their creative, soft, spiritual side to help them out of the situation.

On the other hand, if the person is being really lazy or timid then a healthy dose of motivation may help. 

It’s critical that you first understand the person, their temperament, and the situation they are in to determine how to approach them with your communication style. 

If unsure it’s always best to lean on the nurturing side until you determine that the person is strong enough and ready for a healthy dose of motivation. 

Most of the time nurturing is the best approach and if you think motivation is called for then it needs to be done in a smart, fiercely loving manner. 

6. Remind The Person Things Will Change

Lastly, it’s important to remind the person that life is always changing and nothing is permanent.

The struggle, suffering, or whatever situation the person is in will eventually change in some way or another.

It’s not going to remain exactly the same.

If someone has a severe illness there is most likely a way to alter the symptoms with drugs.

If someone is experiencing a lot of mental or emotional pain it will ebb and flow and possibly even fall away at some point.

If someone is broke and without a job, there will always be work that needs to be done even if it’s in a different industry.

If someone is depressed after a breakup, the depression will release and they may even find someone better who lights their life on fire in the not too distant future.

In the heat of the moment, we always think that things will never change and that we will be trapped in some predicament for the rest of our lives. 

That’s how vicious our thinking mind can be.

It’s important to remind the person who’s in the middle of the shit that this too will pass and that there are ways of dealing with these situations.

Just reminding someone of that and offering your support is a huge help when someone is struggling. 

Time allows the flow of life to continue moving. 

Concluding Thoughts

That’s my take on offering support to people who come to you looking for help.

We have all been in situations like this and have talked with people who are going through them.

It’s important to just acknowledge how hard life is sometimes and to just be there for people.

Resist the urge to try and tell people what they need to do right away and instead listen with an open heart to what someone is saying.

If you open your heart and really listen to someone it will unlock a deeper level of their struggle and it’s only when you allow people the safety to access this place that true healing and change can start to occur.

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.