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5 Ways to Help Someone Going Through a Big, Awful, Horrible Thing

5 Ways to Help Someone Going Through a Big, Awful, Horrible Thing

I am not one of those people that believes everything happens for a reason. I used to. I tried to find the good in every situation, but then really big, awful, horrible things happened that couldn’t be explained away. There are some situations that don’t have good in them, they just are. They can’t have rainbows drawn around them. Will you learn from the experience? Probably. But, I think you could have learned without the experience too. I think there are some things that are just really difficult and hard. They shouldn’t have to be part of the human experience, but they unfortunately are.

What do I mean by a really big, awful, horrible (bah!) thing? (I love acronyms and “bah!” is really good, right? Humor is always a good thing.) Everything is relative. We are all living this human experience and we come to know pain, humiliation, heartache, sorrow, grief, shame, guilt, etc. to different degrees. As a psychologist, educator, and life coach, I have heard a lot of stories that hurt my heart. Stories that are unfortunately part of the experience and ultimately demonstrate amazing resilience, but something I wish the person didn’t have to endure. There are some things that are easier to reach out to each other during: when someone you love dies, when you or someone you love is ill, when your child is struggling, etc. There are other times that are clearly (bah!) things, but people tend to shy away from reaching out to each other: when someone is going through a breakup or divorce, when someone is dealing with a loss by suicide, when someone has lost a job, or when someone is having financial troubles. I think people hesitate to reach out because they don’t know what to say or do and are very afraid to say or do the wrong thing. 

How do we, on the outside, handle these big, awful, horrible (bah!) situations, even the ones that people typically shy away from? In my experience, a typical response for a well-meaning person is to offer a word of encouragement that at some point includes something like “Everything happens for a reason.” If you have been through a really big, awful, horrible (bah!) thing, the outpouring of kind words is nice, but they are not always comforting. They are also short-lived. 

It may be better to offer something of more value to the receiver. For that, I offer you these suggestions:

 

  1. Let people know you don’t know what to say, but you are there for them.
  2. Offer to just spend time with them as they work through the feelings of the situation. A lot of people avoid someone going through big, awful, horrible (bah!) things, which makes them feel more isolated. 
  3. Listen to them. Don’t worry about giving advice. Just listen and let them talk. 
  4. Show up with groceries or gift certificates for food or to do laundry or to help clean. People going through big, awful, horrible (bah!) things have trouble focusing on everyday tasks. A lot of people will say “Let me know what I can do to help,” but people going through big, awful, horrible things often can’t focus to know what they need and don’t feel comfortable asking others for help with these tasks.
  5. Check on them regularly. After a big, awful, horrible (bah!) thing there will typically be an outpouring of kind words. However, they will be dealing with the effects for a long time after the kind words stop. Be the person that continues to check-in on them.

Big, awful, horrible (bah!) things will happen in life. Sometimes we will find meaning in them, sometimes we won’t. However, we can show up for each other and be of value to one another. Maybe it is in these connections that new meanings will begin to be found.   

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