Anyway, the tissues change from the normal ultra soft to the ones that are anti-viral and still soft. Yes, I'm that guy. As friends, family, and significant others, we offer that same support (minus the green and yellow unless you're a Green Bay Packers fan) in wanting to help those we care about feel better. Sometimes, though, our support can hurt more than it can help, ultimately rubbing that nose raw and tearing yourself up in the process. So where's the line between helping and hurting?
Um, excuse me? What do you mean that I did it wrong?
Well, that's what the rest of the post is for, so read on. No matter what the relationship is between you and the person you're trying to help, there are a few basic steps that always apply:
1) Is this the right time? This is absolutely critical, as you're not going to be able to talk things through with someone who's bawling their eyes out or is beyond pissed off. It doesn't really matter if you think that you have "the answer" (hint: you don't, nobody does) to whatever the problem is if the person you're trying to help is not receptive to it. This is what ends up happening with parents and teens:
Mom thinks that her 16-year-old son, Billy, is in a really bad mood when he comes home from school. She does the right thing by observing his facial expressions (beet red with clenched teeth), subtle things like how hard he throws down his backpack and how loud his stomps are compared to most days, and the fact that he comes in half yelling/half mumbling, "I effing hate everything and everyone. I am so pissed off right now. Why the hell would he say that to me?!"
So mom correctly assesses the situation and goes to help. And that's where she goes wrong. Billy's not in the mood to hear anything from mom when he first comes home from school, no 16-year-old is even on a good day. Being upset only makes that desire for you to leave him alone even stronger. Instead, mom goes up there, Billy continues to express how upset he is via acronyms that she doesn't understand and words that he can't use on TV, and now Mom is upset with Billy for that reaction and Billy ends up getting in trouble. Yeah, that didn't help Billy at all. Best of intentions, worst of timings.
2) Do I know what the actual problem is? You can't help someone with something if you don't have an accurate understanding of what's making that person upset. Many times it's what the person says it is (if that person is even willing to talk), and many times it's not. Sometimes the person doesn't even know what's making him upset, so what are you supposed to do about it? You can't give an answer to a question that hasn't been asked, so don't try until you are completely sure that you know what's going on.
One day a wife comes home to find her husband watching TV and looking really unhappy. She sees that he's watching something about his favorite sports team losing a game (I can empathize more than I can write here), and goes to talk to him about it. Think about that: In all of ten seconds she saw that her husband was sad and that something was on TV, and now she knows what's happening? Not a chance. Could she be right? Sure, not because of intuition or understanding, but because of luck.
It turns out that he actually got turned down for a promotion, and while the wife was totally ready for him to explain why the Redskins suck again this year (personal disclosure there), she was not at all ready to hear that he didn't get the promotion. Now thoughts are racing through her head like, "How could he screw this up again? What are we supposed to do about Christmas? Why the hell do you care about the Redskins at a time like this? We planned on that promotion!" These thoughts come out either in words or in body language, the husband picks up on it, and now he's on the defensive. He's hurt more because the wife didn't know what was going on but tried to help, anyway.
3) Why am I trying to help? This may sound silly because obviously it's to help someone you care about, but is it really? Maybe not. Well, no, most likely not. Think about what you're thinking right now (yeah, I know, weird sentence):
I'm helping my friend because I want to help her.
Okay, that's being a good friend and being noble, but read the last part of that sentence again. "Because I want to help her." Yes, because it's what YOU want to do. As much as you want it to not be true, there's no such thing as a selfless act. You always get something out of it, whether it's a clear conscience, feeling glad that you could help, or a legit reason to put off doing the dishes.
Does this make you a bad person? Absolutely not. Wanting to help is fantastic, but help because you want to help that person, not because you want to feel good about helping that person. Will feeling good still happen? Sure, and that's fine as what's called a "secondary gain", meaning that it's not the main reason that you're helping. However, don't help her out because you feel bad or feel obligated, because then you're not going to have her best interests at heart.
I know, I know, it sounds like a buzz kill, but wait until you read my post about selflessness specifically and you'll see that I have nothing but the best intentions (oh, the irony).
4) Do I know what the hell I'm doing? If I have a problem with a home maintenance issue that doesn't involve the house being on fire or under water, then I know exactly who I'll call. It's a friend who has done a ton of work for Habitat for Humanity and always knows how to fix anything in a house. If I need help with cooking (if I get privileges beyond the microwave), then I know who to call, because she's the MacGyver of the kitchen and can throw together two bananas, an artichoke, and some thyme, put it in the oven for half an hour, and then have a four-course meal that could be served at a five-star restaurant (yes, I've booked her for Thanksgiving next year . . . and every year after that).
Why do I call these people for these things? Because they know what the problem is and they have the skills and training to help me solve those problems. They've done it before, and they've done it right. I wouldn't call a plumber to fix my TV because that's not his field and I don't want my TV being his guinea pig any more than you want your friends and family to be yours (Halloween aside, though still kind of weird).
Too often I see parents trying to take on really serious teen issues, like cutting, only to get frustrated and make the problem worse. Not out of hate, of course, but out of a lack of knowledge. Best friends may have gone through divorces or been married for 20 years, but that doesn't mean that they know what's right for your marriage. And everyone has been sad at one point or another, but that doesn't mean that you know how to deal with what your kid/significant other is going through. It especially doesn't mean that you know how to do it yourself.
Oh, and to be clear: Not knowing how to do it doesn't make you a bad parent/spouse/friend. In fact, it helps protect that person and you from making it worse when all you wanted to do was make it better. Getting someone who does know what they're doing can be the best thing to do, even if it's just an e-mail or phone call.
The whole reason that I got into this field is because I love working with people and helping them through tough times. I've done it my whole life, but when it comes to really serious issues like depression, marital problems, or other things that you can't put your finger on but just know are out of whack, I went and got a strong education in how to work with people to do what's best for them, not what I guess may work based off of an episode of "Oprah."
I genuinely love working with people, I love making people laugh in the process, and while microwaves may be my limit in the kitchen, I actually do know what I'm doing when it comes to this. Of course there are many things that you can do even without fancy degrees or letters after your name, but when it's impacting your day-to-day life, talk with someone who really does get what you're saying and what you're going through.
If you do have something going on or know someone who does, then get in touch with me so we can see how to work through it. You can contact me here on the website, give me a call at (302) 464-0021, or send me an e-mail to get started and see what's best for you or that person you care about so that you or she/he don't end up as a guinea pig.
Unless you're talking about an actual guinea pig. Then you're on your own.
Remember: Nobody said that it would be easy, but nobody said that you had to do it alone.