Band-aid on a Bullet Wound
Do you know someone that is experiencing a difficult time in their life? It may be a friend going through a heartbreaking divorce, a family member dealing with a frightening diagnosis, or someone grieving the loss of a loved one. Most of us do know at least one person, and it can often hurt to watch someone that we care for suffer so much. Our first impulse is often to want to rush in to ‘make things better’ or ‘fix’ the pain that they are experiencing, and we often do that by expressing the only sentiments that we can think of when words truly fail. Many quick and common clichés come to mind- “Don’t worry!” “It’s going to be ok.” “This must be God’s will.” “It could be worse.” “You should try (fill in the blank).” Do these phrases sound familiar? Perhaps you have shared them- or even heard them. Though these sentiments often come from a compassionate and sympathetic heart, there are more powerful and constructive ways to show support to others during times of need.
Studies show that three of the most beneficial types of support that can be offered to others who are enduring difficult times are emotional support, informational support (caution!), and instrumental support. Emotional support is by far the most helpful and beneficial type of support that we can give. This is reflected in verbal and nonverbal communication, and includes listening, empathizing, comforting, and a general availability of ‘being there’ for someone. There is great power in silence and simply being present in your loved one’s time of need. This type of support can reinforce a person’s self-esteem, feelings of adequacy, and general feelings of love and acceptance during their difficult season.
Informational support includes the delivery of information regarding the loved one’s experience, however this should be used with caution and only at the request of the loved one. When the crisis is health related, this type of guidance has found to be most helpful coming from healthcare providers, but harmful when coming from friends and family. Proper informational support that is delivered in an appropriate manner enhances a person’s feeling of control, coping skills, and management of day to day life while enduring hardship.
Instrumental support includes practical applications of service to your loved one. This includes the execution of daily routine activities, such as making meals and helping with various tasks. This can also include a thoughtful gift, such as cards and words of encouragement that show support and love.
While these options provide us with many ways to help loved ones in their time of need, it is notable to mention that some well-intentioned actions have in fact been shown to be detrimental when used. Displaying unrelenting optimism, minimizing the problem, forced cheerfulness, making insensitive comments, avoiding the situation or person, and being told not to worry has been found to be the most harmful. If you have found yourself making these blunders, don’t beat yourself up! Many of us have resorted to these approaches in an attempt to help when we feel truly helpless. However, remember that there are many ways that we can help those who are suffering that will benefit them in the long run, while strengthening the relationship that you have with them. You can’t put a band-aid on a bullet wound, but you can sit with your loved one in their time of need, show support and love, and in turn become a catalyst for healing.
The Refuge Center for Counseling is here to provide you with the additional support that you or your loved one needs while navigating through difficult times. You don’t have to walk this road alone! Call us at 615-591-5262 to schedule an appointment.
Helgeson, V., & Cohen, S. (1996). Social support and adjustment to cancer: Reconciling descriptive, correlational, and intervention research. Health Psychology, 15(2), 135-148.