Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Struggling to find supportive words for those in need

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

The struggle to find supportive words for those feeling stressed

Q: I find that when someone I care about comes to me stressed out or needing support, I am woefully inept. I am adept at helping out financially or planning out something they need to be done, but if they need me to say something supportive or just be there, I feel empty.

I feel myself stressing with them and getting panicky — and if it's someone very much involved in my life, like a partner or a parent, I feel guilty, like I am responsible. I understand it's due to my own experiences as a child, but I want to be better. Help?

Want to Be Supportive

Carolyn: Your discomfort with these situations is so common. And for those who are handy with reassuring words, "planning out something they need to be done" is often stressful. We all have our weaknesses.

So, acknowledge those weaknesses. Since it sounds as if you're referring mostly to situations with a partner or parent, use your close relationships as a chance to be candid. It's difficult and awkward to form the words, yes, so save them for a neutral time when no one's asking for your support. Maybe say: "You recently were upset about X, and I felt bad that I didn't have words to help you feel better. I'm more comfortable doing something to help, like coming up with money or a plan."

Next, listen carefully to the person's response. There's an excellent chance your nearest-and-dearest know this about you, possibly better than you do, and aren't really asking you to be anyone beyond who you are.

It could also be that your nearest-and-dearest are as frustrated as you are by your reassurance paralysis, and will be grateful just that you asked about ways you can help them. Or, perhaps they have observed something only an outsider can see, something that you can apply to improve your dynamic and ability to communicate. That's why this part is all about listening — you want to hear specifically what they're asking of you, as well as their insights into why you struggle to provide it.

Best part about this plan is that you don't have to repeat it with everyone who has ever leaned on you in a vulnerable moment. Use these conversations with your innermost circle to get a general idea of how to conduct yourself with others — even if it means admitting to someone who leans on you, "I wish I could be of more help. I'm kind of lost in these situations." Letting them know you want to help is better than vanishing, which is what so many people do in the presence of pain.

Anonymous: I was a volunteer chaplain in a hospital for 14 years. Guess what? Nobody feels at ease trying to support someone who is going through hard emotional times. Even people who are trained to do it.

Listening is key, that's what most people really want and need. And to start, you can always say, "I feel bad for you, tell me what you need, help me to understand the problem."

Carolyn: Love this, thanks. And I'd add: Be prepared not to take their responses personally. Emotional strain can knock off people's filters completely.

Comments

Tell Me About It: Pregnancy makes move harder to bear

Pregnancy makes move harder to bearI’m 27 weeks pregnant and just moved to a new city for a great job, but I think I made a big mistake. I loved my old life and feel so homesick for it. But my husband and I bought a house, so moving is not a feasible...
Published: 01/15/18

Tell Me About It: Mom is floored by daughter’s pregnancy

Mom is floored by daughter’s pregnancyQ: I’m literally shaking as I type this. My 15-year-old daughter is pregnant. I can’t believe it. We had many good discussions about waiting until she was ready, using birth control when she was, but it all did n...
Published: 01/14/18

Tell Me About It: Social daughter pushes mom’s boundaries

Social daughter pushes mom’s boundariesQ: So I am an introvert, and it has taken me years to finally accept this and allow myself to be happy alone, rather than constantly trying to appease my extroverted family with attempts to socialize that ultima...
Published: 01/12/18
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Jan. 15-21

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Jan. 15-21

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Celebrations happen all around Tampa Bay today, including the MLK Dream Big Parade in downtown St. Petersburg. It includes 110 units and bands, including Florida A&M and Tuskegee universities, and ends with a Family Fun Da...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/14/18
Here’s how to sing along to the entire Hamilton soundtrack at a Tampa library

Here’s how to sing along to the entire Hamilton soundtrack at a Tampa library

If you’re already singing along to the entire Hamilton soundtrack alone, why not meet like-minded folks and do it together?A Hamilton singalong goes down tonight at the Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library in Tampa. Fans will gather to sing the entire — y...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Tell Me About It: Retiree searches for purpose and answers

Retiree searches for purpose and answersQ: I retired over a year ago from a fairly high-powered job that gave me worldwide recognition in my field. The decision to retire (in my mid-70s) was a very difficult one because I was not sure I could fill my...
Published: 01/11/18
Plan your weekend: MLK Day, Monster Jam, Sunshine Music Festival, comic Nikki Glaser, Christian artists at Winter Jam

Plan your weekend: MLK Day, Monster Jam, Sunshine Music Festival, comic Nikki Glaser, Christian artists at Winter Jam

  Holiday MLK Day: Before the parades on Monday in downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa’s Cuscaden Park, there will be a block party and battle of the bands on Sunday with the Florida A&M Rattlers, Tuskegee University’s Marching Crimso...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/12/18
Meet the monster trucks: Free truck displays around Tampa Bay

Meet the monster trucks: Free truck displays around Tampa Bay

Before Monster Jam invades Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, some of the show’s biggest stars will be on display across the Tampa Bay area. You can and take pictures with the 12-foot-tall, 10,000-pound monster trucks at the following free appearance...
Published: 01/10/18
5 things to do under $5: Kite festival, Florida Manatee Festival

5 things to do under $5: Kite festival, Florida Manatee Festival

1 Treasure Island Sport Kite Festival: The annual competition returns to the beach behind the Thunderbird Resort, filling the sky with kites as flyers perform to music at this two-day event. There will be dual-line and multi-line sport kite flying in...
Published: 01/10/18

Tell Me About It: Wife wants stepkids involved in new baby

Wife wants stepkids involved in new babyQ: I have two stepchildren, 17 and 15. They switch off between our house and their mother’s. My husband and I have been married three years and have a 6-month-old daughter.I am really sad about the lack of affe...
Published: 01/10/18