Supporting Others: Are You Being Helpful or Dismissive?

Seeing a loved one suffering from stress, anxiety, grief or depression can be heartbreaking. It can be difficult to know what to do or how to react. You may wish to fix the situation or take on some of the burden to improve your friend or family member’s mood.

It is very common to compare their situation with one that is worse off as a way to provide perspective.

“I know you are mad at your mom for ruining your sweater. At least she didn’t ruin your graduation dress.”  

“Fighting with your husband is terrible but it could be worse. Some husband’s beat their wives.”

“It must be so depressing to not be able to walk for so long after your leg surgery. But it could be worse. I know someone who was paralyzed after a car accident.”

Often when we are in a difficult situation we can become myopic, feeling like our situation is entirely unique and no one can understand our pain. Offering perspective is helpful to help give your loved one a different view on their situation.

However, doing so can cross the line of being dismissive of your loved one’s feelings. It can imply that because others in the world are suffering more or because the situation could have gotten worse your loved one is not entitled to feel as they do.

Being appreciative and grateful that the situation is not worse does not change the fact that the situation is still difficult. 

Comparing situations may leave your loved one feeling ashamed and guilty that they have those emotions to begin with. They may feel self-conscious or judged and instead of sharing their emotions, they will likely suppress them allowing the emotions to fester in an unhealthy manner, leading to higher rates of depression and suicide.

Instead, help your loved one practice mindfulness. Encourage them to recognize their emotions and accept them without judgment. Remind them that “shoulds and coulds” will only exacerbate their already difficult situation. Help them feel safe to share their feelings with you even if you disagree.

Open communication with a safe person can help them work through their anxieties or stressors so that they can make healthy decisions on how to improve their situation.


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