When Bad Things Happen to People You Know

There are have been some recent tragedies in my community lately and it’s always hard to know what to do when bad things happen to people. Instead of pretending to be an expert, I’ll share what I have learned from experience NOT to do when people are suffering. Whether it’s divorce, diagnosis, death or another life changing event, here are a few ways of coping that I suggest NOT doing.
  1. Say Nothing – I always had a fear of saying the wrong thing so as default, I often said nothing and did nothing. Also, my inner perfectionist would rear her head and tell me my small gesture wasn’t enough so I would create bigger and bigger gestures in my mind and then never follow through on any of it. What I realize now is that when people are suffering, they need witnesses. It helps them feel supported to know they aren’t alone and that other people see them, hear them and feel them. 
  2. Try to fix things – “I know a great book you’ve just got to read!” “My friend went through something similar and THIS saved her.” “Here’s what you need to do ……”  We mamas hate this when we are trying to vent about our day and our husband tries to fix it, but then we forget when our teenager vents and we try to fix their problems. It’s hard to just sit and let the people we love, feel their negative emotions. Remind yourself that listening IS helping. Letting them talk about how they feel helps them process and move through the emotion.
  3. Jump in the well – I’m so grateful to my life coach training for teaching me how to “hold the space” for someone else. Before that, my huge heart would get the best of me and when someone (anyone!) was suffering, I thought the loving thing was to suffer along with them. I imagine someone sitting in the bottom of a well, and out of empathy and solidarity, I would jump in the well with them. They may feel better because at least they weren’t alone, but I would make their grief my own and then we’d both need help getting out of the well. What’s worse, is if they start worrying about me and trying to make me feel better! Now I see my role as sitting next to the well, maintaining a perspective of peace and well-being so that when they are ready, they can climb the rope and join me in peace. It’s a difficult climb and they won’t be the same person at the end, but it is their climb and not mine.
  4. The platitudes – If you want to make a grieving person’s blood boil, offering platitudes is the way to do it. “Everything happens for a reason” “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle” “Jesus has a plan for your life”.  These sayings might give YOU comfort but it diminishes and denies the experience your friend is going through. It’s like saying “Maintaining my life’s philosophy is more important to me than what you are going through in this moment.” Imposing our positive outlook on others is a way of avoiding our own emotions. When we block ourselves from feeling sadness, vulnerability and fear, we also block ourselves from feeling love.
The worst thing that will ever happen to you is a negative emotion. Once you can feel all your feelings without pushing them away, you are free! You will know you can handle anything that comes your way. The best way we can help others with their difficult times is to get comfortable with feeling all our feelings. When something bad happens it makes us feel vulnerable. We don’t like feeling vulnerable so we look for reasons, blame, platitudes or anything to make sense of this unpredictable world. Remember that love is always an option. Even if you aren’t sure what to do or how to help, ask yourself “How can I best express love to this person?” or “What would love do?”  Best of luck to you as you spread love through this unpredictable world. Blessings to all those going through difficult times. My heart is with you xoxo.

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