We have to use wisdom in handling the hurting because until you've experienced something for yourself, you do not have the ability to truly understand someone else's experience. You may try to do so by using your imagination, but that's based on your solid opinions, which was formed via your upbringing, which was shaped by your parent’s culture.
I had both of my kids by Caesarian section, so I relate more to people who have had surgery than to women who have gone through the natural childbirth experience. I am AWARE that the pain the mother experiences, the length of time enduring labor, and the concern of the dad, all adds up to an amazing dramatic moment when the child is delivered. But it is strictly my imagination that conjures up what that is like. For me, I was groggy from anesthesia, then within a very short time a slimy, tiny human was displayed from behind a sheet/curtain for about five seconds, then I went to sleep. No tears. No drama. Just baby. Therefore, I never have that "Yeah! Right!" moment other moms have when they connect over their birth stories.
I've discovered this is the case in traumatic life events as well. You may have experienced the pain of divorce, but it is NOT the pain of death, and the two can only relate as closely perhaps, as someone who’s experienced natural childbirth vs. Caesarian, or adoption. All cases resulted in parentage, but they are NOT the same. Divorce, death, losing a home, having a child run away; they all produce confusion and pain, but they are not the same experiences with slight differences, they are very different experiences with slight similarities.
So, when you are trying to help someone who has been wounded by a tragedy of life, the most important posture you can take is one of very little opinion. People trying to offer advice and instruction mean well. But it doesn't feel like love or kindness to the one hurting. It feels judgmental. It does not feel like support to the one hurting. It feels like what little strength one has is being stripped away.
It is hard to trust people. That is why we should be cautious in sharing our opinions about how people should be handling THEIR crisis. We love these hurting people. We can see how vulnerable they are. So we do the only thing we know to do; describe to them what we see they've done wrong that got them in their present dilemma. We also tend to be driven to tell them what they should be doing now. It is not out of malice. It is not some devious, twisted plot to make their life even worse than it is. It is actually because you love them very much! However, diving into their storm armed only with concern and emotion is the equivalent of watching a loved one wrestle a bear. EVERYBODY is freaked out by the event. But if we are not careful, in our attempts to shoot the bear, we shoot the loved one.
When you have been thrust into the awkward position of handling the hurting, you should know that the most painful things well-meaning people do is to say what you think the hurting person is thinking and doing based on your own imagination. Do you really KNOW what they're thinking, or WHY they're behaving or deciding what they are? Have you bothered to ASK?
What generally happens is, we assume, then form our own opinions based on our own assumptions. The one we're trying to help has not participated in any part of the process; except maybe at the end where what is meant to bring them clarity ends up confusing and simply adding to the weight of their pain.
So, if you have a friend or family member scaring you because of behavior being acted out due to life-upheaval, the most helpful thing you can do is not to offer guidance, but rather ask gentle questions AND LISTEN.
"Are you afraid? What are you afraid of?"
"Do you need me to do anything differently?"
If they trust you enough to answer your questions, likely they will start spilling out more of what is causing their pain and behavior. When they tell you more, you'll be better able to "diagnose" them and properly "treat" them. But even at this point you should not necessarily start advising. What you want to do is sit there quietly, listening with a heart of compassion, and you're going to keep doing that until something AMAZING happens, which is that they ask YOU a question, "What would you do?" Or "What do you think?"
It might take them a while to come around to the point where they are comfortable answering your questions. Especially if they are gun-shy by previous conversations, with you or someone else. But if you will patiently and compassionately play this role right, they will come around.
If they are not talking freely to you about their pain, and not asking you for advice, then they are scared of you. I know if you have always considered them your best friend, or you are the family member, or the counselor, that is hard to accept. But be encouraged, because if you create a healing, loving, environment, they WILL come check it out. If it is legit you will be allowed to be a part of their healing. Feeling frustrated you can't seem to do anything right is understandable. But being angry at them will accomplish nothing in your relationship. If they're the "patient" and you're the "doctor," you have to explore the "medicines" until you find the cure. And pray, pray, pray for them.
The other way to help someone going through a pain you have not experienced is to support them. This can be tricky if you do not approve of what they are doing. But it is possible. It is possible to hear someone sob and you not say anything except, "I'm sorry you're hurting. I love you." It may not be easy because your instinct wants to point out the stupid thing they did to bring on this pain. But it is POSSIBLE to use self control and simply support.
The most comforting people I have talked to in the midst of the pain and trauma of divorce, were other people who have gone through divorce. Not because we sat around approving of divorce. But because there were so many "Yeah! I know!" moments about the pain experienced behind closed doors. I've opened up to less than five people about my pain in this matter, and for three years the most helpful one was a very quiet, unassuming, tiny lady. I think it is important for you to know that description of her because I am generally thought of as loud, bossy, opinionated, and stubborn. Do you want to know what eloquent advice and direction she gave? She simply said, "I know. I know. It's awful." Sometimes she would add, "It will get better." But that's it! It turned out that in my larger-than-life personality I did not require a Mack truck kind of approach to calm me in the midst of a raging storm. She never said, "You need to..." Or, "Stop doing...." Do you know WHY and HOW she ministered so effectively? It was not because she graduated from a school of theology or psychology. It was because she went through the school of hard knocks. Very particularly, she was thrust into the same classes I was in. Oh, my goodness! She can lift my spirits like no one else! And all she does is listen and say she loves me!
It's also important to accept that you alone do not have ALL that your hurting friend needs. In the beginning, when all Adam had was God Almighty himself, the Creator. God labeled Adam as "alone" and created another source to fulfill Adam's needs. If God accepts that his offspring needs more than only himself, we must each acknowledge that our hurting loved-ones need more than just ourself to meet all their needs.
I will write soon to the hurting people and give my two-cents about how to cowboy up and move forward. But this particular blog is to the strong, healthy one wanting to know how best to be a part of their loved-one's healing.
It really doesn't matter what our title in their life may be; parent, friend, sibling, pastor, mentor, etc. If their boo-boo hurts, and EVERY TIME they see you you're trying to apply healing salt water, you may find yourself with an abundant supply of healing balm, but NO ONE to apply it to. Create an ambiance and atmosphere of gentleness and you'll find more willing patients than you know what to do with.
If you've faced the same pain as your friend you will naturally know how to help. But if you haven't been in the SAME situation, I suggest you try asking questions and listening, not offering guidance unless you are asked for it, and just create a judgment-free, peace zone. And perhaps you'll find yourself becoming a part of helping that person you love be nursed back to spiritual and emotional health.
Denée Richardson, Le Muser
~Thanks to Lisa Velie for editing.