How to Be There for Someone Who's Lost Everything

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Many of us at The Practice have loved ones who've been impacted by Hurricane Harvey. And now with Hurricane Irma on the way, it seems like there's no one who'll escape the trauma of these massive catastrophes. It's hard to know how to be there for someone whose whole world has been turned upside down by a national tragedy, a personal tragedy or some other kind of trauma. The good news is that it doesn't take much to be there for someone when they need you the most.

Sometimes simply acknowledging loved ones’ struggles can help them continue to push foreword. Try acting as a sounding board. Avoid the urge to fix their problems with advice. Be patient enough to allow them to come to their own solutions.

You might say… “I am here.”  “I truly care.” “ Please tell me what this experience is like for you.” 

 When should we talk about it?

It can be very tempting to remain silent until your loved ones ask to talk. However, ignoring the elephant in the room is not helpful for people in crisis who desperately needs to know others care. It is often a huge relief for people dealing with grief to simply be given the opportunity to talk about their loss. 

You might say… “ I am grateful you are safe.” “I am so sorry this is happening.“ “I would like to hear about it when you are ready.” 

What should I avoid saying?

·      “Don’t cry. It will all be okay. ”

·      “It could have been worse.”

·      “Oh, you poor thing.”

·      “ I know exactly how you feel right now.”  

·      “God has a reason for doing this.”

·      “You should have…”

·      “You should do…”

These are commonly heard attempts at comforting people.  However common and well intended they are, these attempts often send messages we do not mean to send. They can be interpreted much differently on the receiving end…

·      Button up those emotions because they are making me uncomfortable.

·      You do not have it as bad as others, so you should just be grateful and not sad.

·      I am superior to you and am pitying your life. 

·      I have done it before, and it is not that big of deal. 

·      God is mad at you and is punishing you. 

·      You were not smart enough to protect yourself from this loss.

·      I know more than you. You are not capable of taking care of yourself.

Try holding space for someone instead.

Holding space is like offering to sit with someone in their grieving process or walk alongside them in their journey to healing without trying to fix them, without making them feel inadequate, and without trying to change their actions or the outcome of their journey. Holding space means sitting with someone’s pain with ears and arms wide open.  Holding space means asking to learn about their heartbreak while letting go of any desire to criticize them or control the outcome. 

You might say… “ I cannot imagine what you are going through. Help me understand.” 

“ You are not alone. I am here with you. “ “ My heart feels broken for you.” “ I really value our relationship and am glad you are sharing this with me. “ “ What can I specifically do to help you in this time?”

Being the trail guide with all the directions and answers can be stressful. That kind of pressure could prevent you from getting close. Walking next your loved ones as fellow trailblazers on their journey to healing can be much less daunting.  Showing up in this way will likely help both you and your loved ones experience a stronger sense of support and togetherness. 
 

To schedule an appointment with Lindley Domingue, LMFT-Associate, call 512-953-7085.

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