When we go through challenges, we often turn to the ones we love for support. Simply knowing someone is willing to listen, understand, and help out when we need it can be very comforting. Finding a balance between leaning on others and navigating your own way can take time, reflection, and patience, as well as some trial and error.
When someone you care about is struggling, when you are the person offering help, how do you know if your input supports their well-being without jeopardizing yours?
Consider the following ways of balancing support and self-preservation.
1. Accept there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Your friend or loved one may be going through difficulties you can relate to because you’ve experienced something similar yourself or challenges you have no understanding of. In either case, they will generally need to figure out a solution that works best for them. Processing how they feel about it, considering solutions, and making adjustments on their own timeline may be a lengthy process. Even if you have ideas to offer, your loved one may not be ready for them yet, if ever.
It can be trying to watch someone struggle and think, “This worked for me, so I’m sure it would help them too.” But remind yourself that their journey is just that—theirs. They may need more time to work through things and discover their own best answer. Give them permission to do that. If you do have advice you believe would be beneficial, wait to offer it until they ask.
2. Let your loved one know you are concerned for them.
You can share that seeing them go through troubles is difficult. If you’re willing and able to do so, offer empathy by listening, trying to understand their pain, and validating their feelings. This can be especially helpful if you notice your loved one may be avoiding an issue. Expressing that you care and that you are available to listen can help a person know they aren’t alone, that they may be able to confide in you, and realize or admit they may need professional support.
3. Ask what they need.
If you truly want to offer help, ask your loved one what they actually need. They may have a very clear answer. They might say, “It helps just to know I have your support and that f I need something, I can ask you.” Or they might say, “It would be very helpful if you could remind me to take my medication.” From there, you can decide if you’re able to help them with their request. If you can’t, you may be able to help find someone who can or at least help your loved one access the appropriate resources to find the help they need.
Asking your loved one to define their needs can help them feel validated and respected. By asking someone about their needs, you are demonstrating you care about them and are interested in what matters to them, that you don’t assume you know what’s best, and that you trust them to know their own needs.
4. Check your own feelings and limitations.
Knowing how it feels to be in a particular situation can help you recognize what you are and aren’t willing or able to do to help another person. Does their issue create serious anxiety or concerns for you? Does it create tension between you and someone else? Maybe it creates conflict between the two of you? It can help to take some time to reflect on how the presence of someone else’s struggle might have an impact on you. Once you have done so, you may be in a better place to honestly evaluate how much help you are capable of offering.
For example, if you believe it would be best for your loved one to seek professional counseling and know you are unable to be both friend and therapist to them, articulate this. Tell them you’d like to help by encouraging them to set up an appointment. You may need to practice healthy boundaries to protect your emotional well-being and your relationship with your loved one.
Balancing your time is important. The focus of your life likely includes other people, responsibilities, and interests, as well as your own self-care. Not being able to call or visit your loved one constantly does not mean you don’t care about them or what they are going through. You can simultaneously be both sympathetic and tend to all the things that matter in your life.
5. Help your loved one advocate for themselves.
Asking something like, “What do you think you can do to help improve this situation?” can create an opportunity for the person you care about to explore their own coping skills, evaluate resources available to them, and consider making decisions about their situation. This simple question may empower them to tap into their own reserves and realize they may have some power in how they feel about what is happening as well as the outcome.
6. Maintain some normalcy.
Your connection to this person is important. Most likely, it involves more than just the challenges they are currently facing or any problems occurring in their life. Make sure the things bonding you and your loved one aren’t ignored. It’s likely neither of you want to focus on the difficult things all of the time, so remember to include the things that link you. Setting aside time to spend together where you don’t focus primarily on problems or difficulties is likely to be beneficial for both of you.
7. Accept that you cannot fix everything or be available all of the time.
Balancing your time is important. The focus of your life likely includes other people, responsibilities, and interests, as well as your own self-care. Not being able to call or visit your loved one constantly does not mean you don’t care about them or what they are going through. You can simultaneously be both sympathetic and tend to all of the things that matter in your life. Know when you have the time and physical and emotional availability, and give yourself permission to take breaks from giving when you aren’t free to give. You cannot singlehandedly fix what’s wrong, and that’s okay!
8. Find your own support.
If you feel highly impacted by the challenges someone you care about is facing, you may need your own support as you process them and continue to be present for your loved one. It may help to turn to friends, family, and support groups, but you might also wish to seek professional support from a therapist or counselor.
We all want to be there for those we love and help them in times of difficulty. But it’s important to be aware of our own limits at the same time. If we burn ourselves out helping others, not only do we have nothing left to give, we have nothing left for ourselves.
The impact of burnout can be far-reaching. Knowing how, when, and how much you can give of your own time and resources to support others in your life is essential. Not only can it help you preserve your own well-being, it can help you maintain strong and healthy relationships. If you are not sure of how to identify and explore your own limitations and the ways you can support others, seeking support from a qualified, compassionate therapist or counselor can be a good first step.
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