Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

Don't Be a Friendly Enemy to a Hurting Person

Have you ever found yourself searching for the words to say to a loved one or friend (or even a client or parishioner) when he or she was struggling after tragedy struck?

Many well-meaning people can actually harm the people they are trying to help with platitudes or psychobabble mantras that are supposed to make a difference, but don't. At least, not a positive difference. Even when there is truth in the advice, it may be ill-timed or lacking in critical how-to.

Allow me to share my nominations for the "unhelpful help" list," along with balancing words of truth and encouragement if you are the recipient.

1. "Time heals all wounds."

Truth: This often-quoted advice is simply untrue. Marilyn, one of my clients, explained it in a way I’ll never forget. She said, “They say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ But it’s like when you break your arm. It will heal. But if it’s not set properly, it will heal crooked.” You have to do the hard emotional work that resets the breaks so that when they heal, injured parts become straight and strong.

2. “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.”

Truth: There are some things you cannot change. Believe it all day, but you cannot force a change on the will of another person, nor can you change something that has already happened. Sometimes you have to re-evaluate the wisdom and reality of a goal.

3. “Don’t get bitter, get better.”

Truth: There is wisdom in this saying, but the platitude without the “how-to” can make you even madder. You have to learn the step-by-step skills to prevent normal anger after a tragic experience from hardening into relationship-destroying bitterness.

4. “Don’t be a quitter! Never, never, never give up.”

Truth: Never give up on life. Never give up on your future. But…there IS a time to quit!

There is a difference between the act of quitting something that robs your energy and depletes your resources…and BEING a quitter. “Being a quitter” means that you are in the habit of giving up, not finishing anything, tossing in the towel each time there is a problem or hardship. Choosing to tell yourself the truth about an unchangeable situation is wise. There is a time to cut your losses and move on rather than continuing to invest in a losing proposition.

5. “You’ve just gotta be strong.”

Truth: This can usually be translated as something like, “Be stoic. Don’t cry or show those ‘weak’ emotions.” True strength in a time of personal crisis (and in normal times) is based on emotional honesty. It’s OK, even healing to cry. Acknowledging rather than denying your roller coaster emotions helps you put them in place and deal with them. Being candid with yourself and selected trustworthy support people is the foundation for moving forward. Going to pieces sometimes helps to hold you together!

6. “Get busy; throw yourself into a cause.”

Truth: While it’s true that busy-ness can distract you from the emotional chaos raging inside, prematurely throwing yourself into a cause only delays your healing. Denying your emotions, you try to believe you are moving on. However, without the essential emotional and spiritual work we’ll discuss, the pain doesn’t go away. It simply becomes a menacing monster that lurks underground, reaching up to grab you when you least expect it, or secretly poisoning you so that you become weaker and weaker. There’s a time for meaningful activity and even just plain busy-ness, and there’s a time to be alone with the pain. As you read, you’ll learn to distinguish the difference.

7. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself; so many are worse off than you.”

Truth: OK, sure. There are always people worse off than you. But that fact is pretty meaningless when you are experiencing deep pain. Often the people who give this advice are ill-informed or uncomfortable with being with you in your emotional pain. They want you to hurry up and get over it. So do you, of course. But it is not wise to pretend to discount the severity of your injury just because someone else’s situation may look worse from the outside.

Furthermore, you don’t need to add to your misery with a guilt trip about “feeling sorry for yourself.” Yes, refuse to become a chronic victim, which can wreck your life. But feeling compassion for yourself and sorrow for the losses you’ve been hit with is a part of healthy grieving.

8. “God works in mysterious ways.”

Truth: Know this. God gets the blame for a whole bunch of stuff He doesn’t do. Some things that happen have no inherent good purpose. They result from unwise or even evil choices by others or ourselves. God doesn’t inspire evil choices, nor does He will horrific events to “teach you a lesson.” Insurance companies sometimes call them “acts of God.” They are events spawned by the earth’s weather systems, indiscriminately striking and affecting people’s lives. Thus, many of the awful experiences in your life come because you live in a world plagued with troubles and tribulations, and you are not exempt.

The good news is, with your fierce work and determination and divinely-infused strength, you can bring good from anything that happens. It’s your choice.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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