How to Comfort a Person.

Via on Jan 25, 2014

sadhugresized

My last article, How to Love an Empath struck a chord.

Why?

Most people (whether they will admit it or not) feel silenced and imprisoned. They hold their feelings hostage for fear of being rejected or judged for expressing their emotions without reserve.

It’s socially unacceptable to show our emotions publicly. We are taught to keep them tucked away from the outside world.

I’ve never understood this unwritten policy and I refuse to abide by it. I stand naked anywhere I am—if I’m happy, sad, angry or frustrated I expose myself.

A few days ago, I was overwhelmed—I broke down.

My responsibilities came crashing down on me all at once; owning two yoga studios, the dedication to my writing practice, caring for my two young daughters, maintaining a household, attending appointments, nurturing my relationships with my family, my boyfriend and my friends.

I felt alone, scared and panicked.

I knew what I needed to do in order to return to calm; I needed to curl up and cry so I could rid my system of fear.

The only way I know how to regain my strength is to dive head first into what I’m feeling, swim around until I’ve had enough and then, dry myself off and move forward.

I reached out to the friends who I knew would hold me without question, allowing me to process what I was feeling freely.

That evening as I laid in bed, centered and calm, I thought about the action of comforting a person. What were the actions that supported my healing and what hindered my healing?

I thought of two components I believe are necessary in order to comfort and support a person entirely.

1. Only give a hug if you’re asked for one.

In the writing workshops and women’s support groups I lead, I have a rule—no touching unless you are asked to touch.

Have you noticed when someone is upset, your reflex is to reach out and touch their back or envelope them in a hug?

We do this partially out of our desire to be sympathetic, but there is also an unconscious impetus for our ‘compassion.’

We don’t want to witness or feel pain, therefore our natural instinct is to soothe the discomfort. 

We want to extinguish the flames so we don’t have to feel the searing pain of anguish of another, because it reminds us of our own pain.

If our gestures could speak they would say, “Please stop crying. I hate seeing you like this. I am unbearably uncomfortable with your rawness because I am uncomfortable with my own. Please stop so neither of us have to feel it.”

When we do this, we halt the process of true healing. The only way a human being can move through something, is completely; until the tears and the screams stop on their own.

As Robert Frost says, “The only way out is through.”

When we reach out and touch someone, it blocks their passage through the pain.

My job as a comforter is to create and protect a safe space for a person to walk all the way through without judgment or criticism.

It’s important to remember if someone wants to be comforted, they will ask for it. Wait for permission and when they give it to you, open your arms and hug them until they tell you to stop.

 

2. Shut your mouth. Keep the advice inside.

Recently, someone said to me, “I see it, but it’s for you to see, for you to figure out. I can’t tell you, you have to realize it yourself.”

I was moved by her comment. It wasn’t her job to tell me what to do, it was for me to discover on my own.

We deliver advice when we are uncomfortable with the silent power of listening.

The best advice we can give a person is no advice.

I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve spoken way too much when I should have been quiet. I impeded the healing process of others, because I was insecure with myself. I was telling them what I wanted to say, not what they needed to hear (which was nothing).

People will always see things for themselves if they are given the space to speak and listen to their own words. In the silence is where the answer is found, at least that’s my experience.

Advice is opinion.

When you give advice, you are stating your opinion. When someone is in a vulnerable place, they don’t need to hear your opinion, they need to hear their own.

The best thing you can do for someone who is in upheaval is to remain grounded, steady and quiet.

When I comfort someone I repeat to myself, “Be the rock.” Rocks don’t speak, rocks don’t move and when someone is unglued they need to be held in one place, anchored and secure so they can see clearly from their perspective.

~~~

We must understand our own emotions and become comfortable with being uncomfortable within ourselves, before we can be strong enough to comfort another.

We are on this planet to comfort one another as we walk all the way through this life together, so let’s stop tripping each other.

 

By Rebecca Lammersen

 

Relephant Reads:

How to Love an Empath.

Finding Comfort in Discomfort. 

 

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About Rebecca Lammersen

Rebecca Lammersen is the founder of Yogalution, a donation based yoga studio in Scottsdale, AZ. I love being alive. I love being a mother. I love teaching yoga. I love to write. I love to know. I love to not know. I love to learn. I love to listen. I love to read. I love to travel. I love to dance. I love to help. I love to serve. That pretty much sums me up. Check out Rebecca's website and her articles at The Huffington Post. Subscribe to Rebecca's feed and never miss a post!

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12 Responses to “How to Comfort a Person.”

  1. Chris Mayhew says:

    Interesting…I enjoyed reading your article but I have got to say a big fat NO! to your article and its contents in general! Firstly your writing as if you come from a truth higher then us mere mortals? I don't know where you get your expertise to be putting "rules" out there? Have you ever comforted someone who's is in great pain from life threatening injuries? A young man lying on the battle field his guts shot out, breath gasping like a fish out of water…you see the fear of immanent death in his eyes…pleading with you for comfort and help…do you not reach out and hold his hand, cradle his head and talk to him directly to give his panicking mind something to cling too? What about the ambulance responders to a car crash? They are trained how to comfort and talk to someone whilst applying first Aid…Telephone emergency counsellors also are trained to lead a person through their grief…Does your pet dog worry about being centred and giving you enough "space" to grow from your grief? No way! there in there sloppy tongue, tail and all wanting to lick your tears away!
    As a mother when your child is in pain, emotional or physical what is the first thing you do? you don't stand there and "be with them"? ….Maybe if people actually weren't so concerned about how they felt and were more genuine to themselves they wont have to be fearful about saying or doing the wrong thing…Be present…be yourself…If it the situation and person in need causes you to hug, touch, stroke comfort and speak heartfelt words don't block them because of someones "rules"…Thank you though for your post but I wont take it as gospel…its too restricting.

  2. Chris Mayhew says:

    Dear Rebecca, I just reread my post and realise it may come across as harsh…I really did enjoy reading your article and look forward to more…yes it did strike a chord with me…you write with great sincerity and from your deep within yourself… Great clarity and insightfulness….For me I often react to other peoples "take" on "how something should be done" or "my way is the better way" nice to read but i think there are many ways, many different situations which call for more then what someone puts down as guidelines…like religion i find too many people flocking to gurus …yoga, meditation, lifestyle, Dr Phil etc, etc….great to learn from each others experience and perspective but i hate when the guru becomes the message….Unfortunately far too often in the yoga world…Thanks again for your insight…Regards, Chris

  3. Amy says:

    Providing comfort to those that are hurting, is a "hobby" of mine. When people who are hurting seek me out, I ask them, "What can I do to make you feel better?" Some need hugs. Some want to talk for hours and just want me to listen. They need a sounding-board. Sometimes saying things out loud makes them hear what they are feeling. Some ask for my advice. Others might want to watch a movie with me. Occasionally, they don't know what to say or feel and they just want to be acknowledged. They are the hardest to help. They cry out, but they cannot speak. I try to offer comfort to them based upon what they say they need.

    When I see a stranger in distress, I say, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" That way, it is their choice: to ignore me; say, "Thanks, but no."; or say "Yes"; and we proceed from there. Emotional pain is experienced differently by each person it touches, and can vary within the individual according to each situation. That can be confusing for everyone.

    I hate to see anyone or anything suffering. I remind myself to be mindful of their needs. My needs are met when I offer them comfort. The rest is up to them.

  4. Melissa says:

    Great article! Point two is very important, in my opinion, as a person who may need comforting and as a counselor. I would also like to add, if I may, "To not make it about you". Some people, in an effort to empathize, may bring up a similar situation they were in, thus hijacking the conversation and making it about them. When this happens to me, I feel diminished and unseen – not at all comforted. People often do this because they are uncomfortable with uncomfortableness. Silence or simple "that sounds hard", if you feel the need to say something if far more powerful and comforting.

  5. Koo says:

    I support what the author is saying in this article. Emergency situations are not the situations the author is addressing. If my guts were shot out on a battlefield, yes I would want compassionate touch, someone holding my head. A dog is certainly expected to lick me, and if he didn't I would put some peanut butter on my hand. But the psychology of letting someone come to their own decisions without subtle interference is powerful. We don't have to do everything in our power when trying to help someone. This could interfere with their ability to choose by feeling they have to please someone else. There have been times when I could tell someones touch instantly interrupted my tears. And while it feels good, it is still an interruption of a process that needs to be seen through to its conclusion. This article is very valid, and is not addressing emergency situations.

  6. Thank you everyone for your contributions in the comment section. I love hearing all perspectives. I never write with the intention of declaring absolutes, I share my perspective. Thank you again for sharing your words and thoughts, they matter. ~Rebecca

  7. erikbukos says:

    Great article, I'm still gonna give hugs if it feels like right thing to do. How can a hug be bad?

  8. KarenA says:

    Fantastic article, big fat YES to it! Maybe a little "absolute" but clearly written from your perspective, and you did throw in one " at least that’s my experience" line. I think its very useful to hold back and listen, otherwise we project our feelings onto the person. A hug isn't bad but why not pause a little to see if the other person is ready, as it can interupt the outflow of grief.
    And Chris, as a mother I DO just be with my child when he's in emotional pain. I find far more comes out and he learns to accept his emotions, learn how they feel and grow from it. I show empathy, but a hug too early is often used to stop a child crying. (Note, some exceptions in the supermarket here!!). Often once he's settled he'll give me a great big hug, because I'm right next to him.

  9. Chris says:

    Good points from all of you, to me the article read from both physical pain and mental pain…My response was from the reaction of reading as someone putting forth a "set of rules"…Yes there's lots of merit in what the article says. But it comes across as a bit to "expert" and "guru" for me…Emergency situations stem from physiological and psychological trauma and both can be fatal…Its fine to have some guidelines when your best friend gets dumped by her boy friend. Pick up any glossy women's magazine and you find the same stuff along with "1st date confessions" and "best kept sex secrets"…But please keep the guru stuff to a minimum.

  10. Melissa says:

    I disagree with you on not hugging people when they are suffering. Also when I hug others it isn’t my intent to make myself feel better but to comfort others. That must be your reason for hugging others. Don’t assume everyone is like you. As someone else on here says “I’m not gonna stop hugging.”

  11. God of Irony says:

    This article does not come across as absolute. She states she was thinking while laying in bed about two components. Then defined a rule that she has in a public workshop. Then explains her opinions. Her statement on if gestures could speak is true only because it’s what she has in her mind. If my gestures of comforting could speak they would say, “It’s ok to feel, cry. I love you. I gladly and wholeheartedly empathize. I am here for you.” Her comment on it’s important to wait for permission is true but it’s situational and it’s broad which can be misinterpreted (again probably referring to her public workshop). Her second rule is true. The best advice is no advice when someone is in a vulnerable state because you’re human and will probably say the wrong thing. However being a rock is not always ideal. Acknowledgement is important.

    Remember there is No try. Do your best. The Truth we cling to is based on perspective and point of view. This is my opinion based on my perspective and point of view (and slightly redundant). I love you. Farewell.

  12. Sandy Soto says:

    Hmmm…. Great topic, needs to be addressed. I don't agree with the first point though. Being touched or held while going through a painful experience could also mean, "I'm here with you." Other times it could be totally the wrong thing, especially if the intention is to shut the person down.

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