When you love someone, it’s only natural to want to help them when you see them in pain.
That desire can become so strong, we end up actually taking their problems on — shouldering the weight of burdens that are not our own, solving issues that we don’t have the power to deal with, and attempting to force a revelation when a revelation is not being had.
All of it can be absolutely harrowing, because we feel stuck.
When someone close to us is suffering, it feels as though it is impossible to not allow it to affect us, and yet, not offering any help likewise feels insensitive and wrong.
Thankfully, there is a middle way.
This is how to actually help the people you love become mentally stronger.
The truth is that when someone close to us is struggling,
Recognize that you can encourage, but you cannot save.
The first thing you need to understand is that you cannot save someone.
You can encourage them, help them, and show them the way — but their lives are their own, their choices are their own, and you cannot accept responsibility for a person you likewise cannot control.
When you recognize that it is your role to only offer guidance as opposed to actually guiding someone’s journey yourself, you free yourself from the unrealistic expectation that you can save someone for them.
You can’t — and if you feel as though you cannot be at peace if they are not, you need to look closely at the part of you that believes that you cannot be okay unless everything is “solved” and “perfect.”
When you hear them engaging in a self-destructive thought pattern, counteract it with alternative evidence.
If you hear someone you love say something like: “nobody likes me,” instead of saying “no, that’s not true,” offer them evidence that it’s not true.
It could sound like this: “Well, I really like you, so it’s not nobody.”
This is helpful because it offers factual evidence as opposed to simply invalidating how someone feels. The truth is that when someone is in a negative headspace, it is because their thinking capacity is hindered by insecurity.
They do not need more people telling them that they are wrong for feeling the way they do.
Instead, by offering a reply such as above, you are almost acknowledging the truth of the statement (it’s true that not everybody is liked by everybody) while also being rational (it’s also true that everybody is liked by somebody).
Recommend your favorite books, podcasts and videos.
Sometimes, you aren’t the right person to deliver a sensitive message. That’s okay. Another way you can support those you love is by sending them material you really enjoy.
Always frame it like this: “Hey! I was watching/listening/reading this recently, and I really got a lot out of it. It helped me change the way I think about my life/a certain issue. I was thinking maybe you’d like it, too.”
This way, you aren’t so much insinuating that this person is in dire need of help but that you also benefited from receiving assistance or inspiration from something, and so they aren’t alone.
Tailor your recommendations to their current needs.
Don’t offer them a book on money management when the problem is that they’re coming out of a bitter divorce and feeling super lonely.
Sure, maybe that book resonated with you, but it isn’t right for them.
Remember that it isn’t helpful to recommend material that doesn’t apply to the current situation at hand. Try your best, but don’t beat yourself up if they still aren’t interested — it’s possible the problem is deeper, or different, than you know.
Reinforce their behaviors.
The most powerful thing you can do for someone is to reinforce the right behaviors.
Every time they take a positive step in the right direction, make sure that you compliment, acknowledge or appreciate it.
This goes farther than you think it does, especially when all someone is used to is being berated, criticized or judged.
Introduce new evidence for their self-esteem.
If you really want to help a friend or loved one, put them in situations where you know they are going to shine.
Talk about topics you know that they are passionate about or knowledgeable in. Ask them to join you in activities that you know they like, or feel comfortable doing.
This is not only a way to help you bond, but it’s also a way to help that person realize that they are worthwhile, and do have a lot to offer the world.
Know when to call a professional.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone is know when their problems are simply out of your capacity to handle.
You’ll have to use your discernment with this, but recognize that sometimes, it’s actually harder for you as a close friend, lover or family member to listen to or try to absorb someone’s pain. You take it personally, whereas a professional can be objective, give sound advice, create a proper course of action, determine whether further treatment is needed, and so on.
You can either initiate this process if you think it is a dire enough situation to do so, or simply encouraged your loved one to realize that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of profound strength.