We’ve all been there.
We see someone hurting. Maybe it’s someone we love, or someone we don’t even know. But because they are hurting, we are hurting.
Empathy—it’s what makes us human!
Biologically, it’s the “mirror neurons” in our brains being triggered when we see someone experiencing pain. When these neurons fire, it actually feels like we, too, are experiencing that same kind of hurt.
We have the capacity to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes—sort of—simply because we have a human brain that is wired to be empathic.
Pretty cool, right?
So, how do we help someone who is hurting? What’s the best thing to do? Is there a “right way” and a “wrong way” to offer a helping hand?
Most commonly, we are driven to help someone who is dealing with something that we also have struggled with, and maybe even overcome. I know I am not alone in feeling like I just want to shake the person and scream, “Look, I did it too! It’s possible! Follow me!” And even though this is coming from an honest, loving place, this might fall into the “wrong way” category.
Because, I’m the only one who can truly change myself.
I have to want help. I have to want to find a solution to my problem. And no matter how many loving, supportive, helpful people I have in my life, no matter how many solutions are thrown my way, if I don’t really want to change, it’s not going to happen.
There always seems to be someone we want to help, but we may question the “right way” to do so. Here are five mindful actions we can take:
Really listen. Active listening is a skill that social workers, therapists, counselors, teachers and many other professionals have to learn and practice. When we actively listen to someone, we are hearing their words exactly for what they are. We’re not thinking about what we are going to say next or how they will respond; we’re simply being the most absorbent sponge we can, to every word, feeling and emotion they’re expressing. Active listening is all about being present and free of judgement.
How would you want someone to listen to you when you are expressing something painful? What would it look like for someone to actively listen to you?
When it’s time, and when we feel like our friend is open to being on the listening end of the conversation, it can be helpful to reflect on our own experiences. This doesn’t mean that we insert our experiences into their situation, we simply share from our own authentic place.
Was there a time that you felt something similar? What helped you? How was that experience different than what this person is experiencing now? (In this action, it’s important not to project our experiences onto those of the other person.)
Joining together. We can invite this person to do things that would make us feel better if we were in their situation. And, no matter how many times we invite this person who is hurting to join us, and they say no, we keep asking.
How would you want your friends to treat you?
We all need a supportive community. And no matter the problems we face, there are other people who have struggled and overcome those exact same problems. Maybe the person you see hurting is dealing with something similar to a friend or a community member you know. We all can use our resources to provide ways to find support.
As someone who is helping someone else, we have to first remind ourselves why we want to help them. What is our intention, and does it really serve this person’s own needs and desires? And second, we have to remind this person that we love them and want to help. We can literally tell them this, or we can show them—by listening, reflecting, inviting and connecting.
What are your thoughts? What ways have you found to help someone who is hurting?
Author: Maria Borghoff
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Thành Alex/Unsplash