Life Skills

What is your role? Support? Do we have any responsibility?

We all play/have roles in our life – have you ever taken a moment out to define or even figure out your role(s)? Start with who you are…. this is by far the most important… you are ******, the YOU without any burdens/responsibilities… I’ve written about this several times… talked until I am blue in the face.  You have to take care of YOU… figure out the YOU first then……………..

What other roles do you play… really, take a moment — write them down..  Most of them involve some responsibility… a role to play, most certainly… but also responsibility to the other “role” players….  So today I am going to talk about support and what it means…

If you look for a dictionary definition of being supportive, you will find phrases like “being an advocate”, “providing for”, “strengthening”, “to keep from weakening or failing”, “bearing the weight”.  Here is what I have learned about being supportive:

  • My job is to listen, there is an art to listening and here is the biggest hint – don’t interrupt or express my own opinion, I am there to listen  – not talk.  My friend needs to express him/herself, his/her thoughts and opinions.
  • Don’t judge. No one can truly open up and discuss what is on their mind or heart if they fear being judged!!!! I have to remember the golden rule —people in glass houses…..
  • Give feedback/my own opinion only when asked – unsolicited advice is unwelcome, patronizing and insulting.
  • Be honest, if I don’t want what someone has just generously offered – say “no thank you” this is a direct yet still polite and much, much nicer than the blow-off lie “I’ll come and get some later”.  Who I am kidding?  I need to be honest.
  • Help find a solution which maintains everyone’s dignity.  In the east they call it saving face – same thing.  The best solution is one that works for everyone.
  • And the most important part of being supportive is allowing the person to make his/her own life choices.  It may not be what I would have chosen, but it isn’t my choice… it is their life!!!

How to be supportive even when you don’t feel it:

Often we are faced with situations in life when those who we care about make choices we don’t approve of.  Obviously if those decisions put them in harms’ way, then we have to come forward and say something; but otherwise, our differing opinions on their lives can be taken as attacks or judgments.  Whether we like it or not, sometimes it is best to remain supportive even when we don’t feel like it.  To see my tips on walking this tricky line:

  • Remember that being supportive of someone doesn’t mean you have to support a particular choice they’ve made.  You can offer love and respect to someone without approving of every aspect of his/her life.
  • Instead of consistently biting your tongue, go ahead and speak up.  There’s nothing wrong with telling a friend that you don’t feel comfortable discussing a particular topic with them.  And they have the right to know why you might be keeping mum of a specific topic.
  • Most of the time people are going to do what they want regardless of the advice they receive to the contrary, but by keeping an open dialog that communicates respect (as opposed to approval) you’re more likely to not be cut out of our loved one’s decision-making process.
  • If a particular choice does blow up in his/her face as you suspect it might, try to avoid pulling the “I told you so” card.  I’d assume they’re already well aware, but by shoving it in their face, it will only lessen the chances that he/she’ll confide in you in the future.
  • If you do feel like you must say something, propose your opinion in a way that reflects a personal anecdote.  Use your own experiences to warn them, instead of just expounding your opinion.

While I never condone standing by and watching dangerous behavior takes place, I do think that some people really do just have to learn things on their own, so in the meantime, it is best to practice patience over frustration.

Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker.  When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirit expand.- Sue Thoele

Supporting someone in distress challenges us to be present, consciously choosing to respond from an unconditionally loving place instead of reading the “old” conditioned behaviors and responses.  Witnessing people’s distress can feel personally painful and overwhelming.  It is normal to have a desire to help those that seem to be suffering, especially when they are those you love.

  1. People are unique individuals with different needs.  What feels supportive for one may not feel supportive for another.  Don’t presume to know what someone needs or wants from you for support.  It is ok to admit you don’t know how to help.  Consider asking the question, “How can I best support you or what do you need from me to feel I am here for you?” If they have no immediate answer, let them know that if there is something they want; to let you know and if you can say yes to their request, you will.
  2. Let people be where they are.  Feelings are just that  — feelings.  Not good or bed, right or wrong.  Life experiences evoke the full range of normal, human emotions. Feeling distress is not a negative.  In truth, each experience offers a healing and growth opportunity.  Often, the most difficult experiences teach us about who we are, our relationship to others and to the world.  Difficulties invite us to s-t-r-e-t-c-t out of our comfort zones to become stronger, more aligned with our soul purpose, more alive, happier, prosperous…
  3. Listen with a willing ear and compassionate heart.  Responses like, “I understand, I hear you, I’m here for you, or my heart goes out to you.” Communicates understanding and empathy. So often, what people really need in times of distress is a witness who can listen with an open mind and heart.
  4. Be conscious of your language and tone of voice.  Phrases beginning with “Don’t think/feel/be or you don’t have to think/feel/be…. Sad, upset, worried, fearful…” expresses criticism, disapproval, and judgment.  Those statements convey, “What you are experiencing is bad or wrong…Stop it or get rid of it.” The phrase, “I know exactly how you feel” may be intended to offer comfort.  In truth, to truly know how someone feels you must “be in hi/her skin”. Modeling empathy or the ability to relate to the feeling or situation is inviting and heartwarming.
  5. Validate the distress with acceptance, without challenging them to explain or defend their pain.  Honoring the other person’s thoughts and feelings shows respect and creates an environment of safety.  Resist the need to ask a lot of questions that might pull the person out of their feelings which might shut them down.
  6. Resist the urge to cheer up, find the bright side, point out the blessing of the situation or shift their focus.  Offering more positive feedback can be best offered when the person is open to hear them.  Rushing in too soon with a positive perspective can feel invalidating or dismissive.  Create a loving space to allow the person to say what they need to say, feel what they need to feel and ask what they might need.  Support the process of healing and growth by letting go of the need to control or direct how they think and feel.
  7. Be sensitive to offering unsolicited advice or solutions.  Consider your words before you speak.  In distress, people value being heard, listened to and encouraged to “talk about it” without being told what they should or shouldn’t do. Well-intentioned comments offered to “help” may be unwelcome and untimely.  When in doubt – ask if they are open to suggestions.
  8. Check your internal reactions.  Unresolved issues or discomfort impact on the ability to be objective and neutral.  Know your own limits and boundaries.  It is ok to remove yourself from a supportive position.  Be honest in your capacity to “be there.”
  9. Share your sincere, heartfelt thoughts.  Be who you are, not who you think you should be.

    10.  If appropriate and welcome, offer loving touch.  Being held, hugged, having a shoulder to cry on or lean on can feel wonderfully comforting and less lonely.

That is many, many words for support, huh?  But always remember you have to be a support to YOU first….

Now, I need to get moving… rigamortis is setting in…. supporting myself with moving into the kitchen and getting a cup of coffee……. Yum!

3 thoughts on “What is your role? Support? Do we have any responsibility?”

  1. “what feels supportive for one may not feel supportive for another” – amen! The only other thing I would say is many of us don’t know how to ask for help, so after actively listening first, do ask if you can help in a way that the other believes you mean it & they are not just words to make you feel good about having offered. You sure do cover your topics thoroughly, Diane! Enjoy that well-earned coffee!

  2. Diane,
    Thanks so much for your words of wisdom! This really hit home in alot of areas for me. I will be printing this off & carrying it with me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *