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Do you ever feel inadequate or unsure of how to respond when someone lets you know they are struggling?
These ten messages can help you. You can communicate these messages overtly or just through your presence. If you consistently respond these messages, you will notice that people soften, relax, tell you more about their situation, and feel grateful to have someone who really “gets them.”
7. Let the person know that they are not crazy. After you let the person know that you “get it,” then communicate the message that you think that lots of other people who are in a similar situation are probably feeling something similar. It’s disorienting to be dying, because they are losing everything they’ve identified with. It’s a powerful thing when they can realize that their responses are totally natural; it helps them feel they are not crazy.
8. Let the person know that they are not alone. This is connected to #7 with a twist. Knowing that their responses are normal (because other people have them, too) helps the person feel that they are not alone, on a certain level. Even more powerful is when the person feels that you are being fully present with them, as evidenced by your fully hearing them and seeing what they are going through. This can only be done after you’ve focused on THEM and you’ve released your internal agenda.
9. Show the person that there is hope. When a person is struggling or afraid, it can be very easy to obsess about the worst case scenarios. In those cases, it’s normal to feel hopeless about a situation just from one’s limited experience with it. If you can help the person focus on the tangible things in the room, in the moment, and that nothing damaging is happening right now, that will help them greatly. Then you can draw them a map showing them how they might get from their current concerns to what they want to experience instead. The caveat is to be very honest about the possibilities and limitations that you see in their situation. Because if you give them hope and it’s not at all realistic, they will be less likely to trust someone offering to help them again. You can convey to the person a message that "Some things can be different than they are now, even if you can not see how yet. Let’s look at how you might get there.” Hope is vital for people to hear, see and feel.
10. If the above approaches do not help, then show the person a bigger context. When someone can see that there is meaning in their suffering and that their symptoms, however uncomfortable, might just be the best thing to ever happen, that their situation didn’t happen to them but for them, and that it’s a part of their soul’s journey, then you will see many people take a deep breath and be willing to face something that would have daunted them before. One time I was working with a man who was dying and was continually anxious about almost everything. No amount of listening, or any of the other things on this list, were helping him relax. Finally one day, as I was listening to him with a soft and open heart, it occurred to me to tell him, “Max, death is safe.” That simple truth opened something inside his heart and he breathed it in. After that, he stopped struggling, and we often heard him remind us (and himself) that death is safe.
Can you think of other messages people need to hear when they are struggling?
If you still feel inadequate when talking with someone who is struggling, I recommend you try these exercises:
If you enjoyed this post, check out our CE Course "Learn to Be a Healing Presence" or our "Become and Enlightened Caregiver" bundle.
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