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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How to support the people you care about

Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Image credit paahulb via MorgueFileFor readers who don't live locally, we had a major flood wash through our community a few weeks ago. This article was published in our local newspaper. the Tweed Daily News.

It was truly amazing, how after the floods everyone just stepped up to help each other wash out mud, wash clothes, deliver food. So many ways we expressed that we all really care about each other.  Along with the practical assistance, many people wonder how they can best support the emotional and mental health of their family, friends, neighbours and community when talking about the disaster.

A major event like the floods affects people in different ways, at different times. Some people can appear to be handling it all okay and then a few weeks or months down the track realise they’re really not coping at all. Others need extra support from day one. There’s no ‘normal’ time frame for recovery;  but being there for people is always helpful.

The way to best support someone is to simply listen. It’s been proven by science that genuine listening is actually immensely therapeutic. But there’s a way to listen that makes it helpful. First, allow time and space for listening. Simply sit and be with the other person in a place they’re comfortable. This could mean over a cuppa, or even while sitting together fishing. Some adolescents seem to open up more on long drives (perhaps because they don’t have to make eye contact). Young children may talk while you’re playing in the sandpit with them. 

Here’s the tough part that can undo your good intentions: While listening remind yourself, as often as you need to, that you don’t have to take on their problems. That means you don’t dispense advice. Nor try to fix the problem for them; that’s not your job here.  All you have to do is be present, with your ears, and let them know you’ve heard what they say.  You can expect to feel frustrated inside, as you can probably think of many things that they could or should do. But try to restrain yourself.

It may help to let them know you’ve heard with a phrase like “so what you’re saying is….” They might agree, or disagree, or just repeat the story. That’s OK; people in shock will often repeat the same story over and over as they try to make sense of it all.

One more thing: Trauma is sticky, so through listening to many upsetting tales you may feel you need some support yourself.  So don’t be afraid to reach out towards help for yourself.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Help When Life Is Turned Upside Down'


Image credit: Paahulb via MorgueFile


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