Please Stop doing these 3 Things to People Who are in Pain
When someone you love (or even just kind of care about) goes through pain, you want to fix it.
Welcome to being a human.
Here's another fact about being human: you are incapable of fixing said pain.
I had a friend call me the other day. They wanted advice on how to help someone who was going through something incredibly painful; specifically, they wanted to know what to say to the person who was hurting. Our subsequent conversation reminded me of how disconnected we can be with our own pain and our own motivation for helping others. So I thought it prudent to share a list of things we MUST STOP DOING when interacting with people in pain.
1. Stop handing tissues to crying people. No, really. When someone is with us and they are sharing and crying, why do you reach for tissues? Do you assume they don't want to look messy? Are you trying to do something to help them, because you feel helpless? Are you changing the subject? Really think about the last time you did this. It is incredibly likely that your motivation came from you and not them.
Think about the message handing them tissues is sending. It says "shhh now, enough of that. Go on, clean yourself up. It's going to be fine". Would you say those things out loud? Probably not. So don't say them with your actions either.
Some may be responding to this, internally, with offense. To you I say sit with this for some moments. Are you offended because it untrue and your motivation to help is pure? Let me tell you, they can ask for a tissue if they want one. Or they can use their sleeve or their hand or your shoulder if they want. They don't need you to be preemptive or telepathic and answer their needs or wants. They need you to show up, hold your own agency, and let them do what they need.
2. Stop giving people a hug for comfort. I know, some of you will say "but I'm a hugger. That's how I show I care". To that I say, so what? It isn't about you. When you are the one crying or hurting and you need a hug, you should feel free to ask for one.
As humans, we instinctively reach for what we need. Some people will hold a pillow. Some will pull away from people wen they are at their most vulnerable. Some will scoot in closer to be comforted by those close by. You need to let them make their own move, toward either protection or affection.
Additionally, if you've never heard any conversation about being trauma informed, let me tell you this. You have no idea what the person (whom you are trying to comfort) has had going on in their past. When they are already vulnerable and hurt, to breech that personal bubble, to reach into their pain and impose your version of comfort onto them, is a different level of offensive.
3. Stop trying to cheer them up. It is ok for people to be sad sometimes. However, when we are around people in pain, it reminds us of our own pain. In order to avoid that emotion, we (consciously or unconsciously) try to change the mood to one which makes us feel more comfortable. But when we do this, we undermine the other person's experience.
Well that's enough to chew on for now. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter, either by private contact or by commenting below.