How to help? Stop the advice and create space

In the last week, I’ve had two interactions where — with all of my being — I wanted to be able to help but felt hampered by not having a clear action to take. One situation centered around my mother experiencing a deeply personal loss of a friend, and the other involved one of my close friends who had a fairly tumultuous 2017.

As both leaders and people who generally care about others, our first reaction in these situations is often to offer advice, provide comforting words, or relate a personal experience. But, this desire to fix or help may only benefit our own selfish desire and not the other person.

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Oh, you want to get healthy? Here is a gym you can join! (But seriously, if you live in the Triangle, you should join the 360 Approach family).

What can we do instead? Create a nonjudgmental space for sharing, reflection, and even silence. For me, this is hard. And uncomfortable! Sitting in silence with another person is not how I would describe a good time. I start to fidget; my brain begins racing; sweat beads at my wrists and temples.

Why does this happen? Our culture doesn’t embrace silence as a value. In fact, we want the opposite of stillness: movement! sounds! notifications! Fill the void with chatter, innovation, progress.

These actions can make us feel like we’re moving forward. In reality, these actions can limit our ability to fully connect with our own emotions and with the emotions of others. While we can now check off a box, the jumble left behind inside of us remains just that: jumbled. This mess often finds its way out of us through less desirable means: anger or sadness; overindulgence; self-harm; fighting with others; sickness.

Let’s make a pledge together in 2018 to try and create spaces for others when they need it. We’ll keep our mouths closed and our advice to ourselves. We will be present, and we will listen. Actively listen. We can ask open-ended questions that give the person we love more opportunities to unearth what they want (and likely need) to say as they process. We need to grow more comfortable with silence and with allowing things to be left unsaid.

During the conversation with my mom, I fought myself to not interject with some trite commentary on grief and loss, on friendship. I wanted to so badly, but I could also hear in my mom’s voice that she needed to just talk. For many of those that we love, they often carry the burden of being the sounding board for their family members and friends. When faced with their own hardships, they don’t necessarily have anyone offering their ears and time.

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A #throwback photo: sometimes creating space involves booze.

After reading this post, what resonates with you? Has someone created space for you recently? How did that make you feel?

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