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My family member/friend is struggling. What can I do?

I wanted to write this blog today, as I often hear from people who know that others close to them are struggling or having a hard time. When this occurs, you may feel all kinds of ways within the ‘not knowing what to do’ cycle, which can impact you significantly.

Comments such as these are common:

*I don’t want to say the wrong thing.

*I don’t know what to say.

*I feel awful, as I can’t help them.

*I don’t know who to go to for help with this.

*I don’t want to make them feel worse.

*I feel at a loss and like a bad friend.

What can I do?

Firstly, let’s take a second (a little breather) to consider the pressure you are putting on yourself here and to remember that you are only human, you don’t have all the answers. You are not an expert. The very fact that you are asking these questions and wanting to help, demonstrates your compassion, consideration and attention.

When family members/friends are struggling, it can be really hard to observe. You care about them; they are important to you and to see them deal with any kind of difficulties can be really tough. A useful starting point is to consider yourself in this. Yes, I said consider YOU first…………

*Have you got the space (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically) to dedicate time and space for this person?

*How are you going to support yourself within this situation and not take on the full weight of responsibility for them? *Boundaries are so important here*

*What are your needs and how are you going to manage them, so that you don’t struggle with any vicarious symptoms as a direct result of your involvement in the situation?

*Do you have any support in place for yourself within this?

Once you have considered the above, you can formulate the kind of support that you are able and willing to offer your family member/friend that involves BOTH your needs being met within the process.

Family members/friends struggling

Lots of people struggle from time to time within their lives. The frequency of such struggles can vary from person to person and can relate to lifestyle factors, situational and environmental issues that might occur.

A useful starting point can be to ask. Simply ask. Asking can help you ascertain what it is that the other person wants and needs, right in the moment. A common response between humans (particularly prevalent as a cultural norm) is to attempt to make people feel better as quickly as possible. This can relate to your own discomfort and unfamiliarity around dealing with difficult feelings, particularly emotional issues (but that’s a blog for another day……). Remember, this isn’t always what your family member/friend needs and they may feel diminished, discouraged and even shamed, as a direct result of this approach.

Questions you might ask from the onset could include:

*What do you need?

*Do you need advice?

*Do you need me to listen?

*Do you want my opinion?

*Do you need me to respond?

*What is going on for you?

*What (if anything) would you like me to do right now?

Making space for your family member/friend to let you know what they need/want in advance can be a radically different approach, enabling and empowering them to inform you of exactly what it is that they require, in the moment. Active listening and responding to their wishes can be hugely therapeutic and beneficial for them. Sitting with another in this way can provide space for them to consider things for themselves, in the knowing that they are valued and respected within the interaction.

Then what?

When you have listened to what the person is struggling with, you can ask what it is that they feel that they need to support themselves. There may be varying different responses from family members/friends here and can often involve them ‘not knowing.’ Not knowing is, again, something that humans can struggle with. You might lean towards wanting to have all the answers, wanting to find the way right now, wanting to ‘fix them’ and move on.

Having options here can be very helpful. There are a host of organisations, agencies, mainstream, holistic, alternative, and private support networks in existence that can provide levels of support for individuals and groups of people (I have included links to such support at the end of this blog). You might feel as though you want to make some suggestions to your family member/friends: contacting GP, signposting to counselling/talking therapy, checking in with an alternative practitioner, talking to other family members and friends. These suggestions may be met with comfort and gratitude from your family member/friends, or they may not. You can use your own felt sense and understanding here, to navigate their responses and support yourself within this.

Back to you again:

Please remember how challenging it can be to support a family member/friend who is struggling. You are doing the best that you can with the time, space and energy that you have. The best we can is ALWAYS good enough. You are responsible for yourself in this world first and foremost. Ensuring you have boundaries in place and managing your own wellbeing is paramount in being able to provide any level of support for others. Utilising existing support services who are experts in specific areas of struggle or challenge, ensures that family members/friends are accessing the kind of professional support that best meets their needs.

You matter. Your time, energy, compassion, output, input, ALL of it, matters. As a wise person once told me…………….. “Step into another person’s shoes, yes, but keep your socks on.”

Links that might be useful to pass on to family members/friends:


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