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Let me start by saying that I love you. I love that you want to be there for me. I love that you're showing concern for my health and recovery. It means so much.
But can I just, real quick, tell you what my mornings have been like since my injury?
I wake up. my phone goes bing! It's a Facebook message.
"Hey! I heard about your knee. How are you doing?"
I head to the bathroom. Another bing!
"How's your knee today?"
I start the coffee. I get a WeChat message.
"Hey man! I heard your hurt your ACL. Sorry to hear it! How bad is it? Will you have to do the surgery?"
I open my computer to answer some emails. I get a text.
"sorry to hear about your injury. That sucks."
Now, let me repeat: I love you. I love that you want to be there for me. I'm so, so grateful to have you in my life, and I am not complaining about your support.
But... when something bad happens to people we love, it's hard to know the "right" or "best" way to support them.
Compounding this difficulty is the fact that everyone is different. For some people, the constant attention and concern would really build a sense of communion and belonging. Feeling a strong sense of social support may even speed up their recovery.
But for others, it would trigger them. Remind them that they can no longer do the sport they love most. Fill them with dread about their upcoming surgery or delivery or treatment. Ruin their good mood. Put the thing they've been trying not to think about back in their head.
"Well, how can I support you?" a friend asked me this weekend.
So I told him:
"How you can support me is... So, I used to play basketball at every opportunity. I don't even know what normal people do for fun between the hours of 5pm-8pm -- like, do they just go to happy hour?
There was this amazing thing in my life that totally took my breath away, and now I'm not sure when I'll be able to do that again.
If you want to support me... invite me to do fun things after work? Active things, ideally, that don't involve a lot of lateral motion."
Any time, any place. Image: @TheHappyTalent on Instagram
For some reason, this dude wanted to argue about how best to support me. (Because that's totally the best way to support someone. Ask them how to support them, then mansplain what they really need to them.)
One of his many "yeah, BUT..."'s was, "Yeah, but what if I invite you to something and you physically can't do it?"
"Then I would obviously tell you -- and make an alternative suggestion."
(Side note: one important rule to live by is, you're not allowed to veto my restaurant/activity suggestion, unless you've got an alternative idea. Another important rule -- perhaps the last thing all Americans can agree on -- is that the driver picks the music. Which -- you know how I know I'm not a hypocrite? My friend who drove me to Zion National Park recently subjected me to almost three hours of Christian rock, and I didn't say a word, because he was the driver, so it was his call. #RespectTheCall.)
Another stupid "yeah, BUT..." was, "Yeah, but I know people who want me to check in with them and ask them how they're doing."
"Okay. Then do that. FOR THEM. What I'm telling you right now is that that doesn't work for me. At best, it's annoying. Like, I don't need for every conversation I have for the next however many weeks to start with, 'How is your knee?'
The best way to know how to support someone who's struggling with an injury or illness is to ask them."
Because, like I've said so many times -- and like Strongbad as said at least once, "Everyone is different. No two people are the same."
Everyone is different. That's why yoga and meditation work for some people, but not others. It's why some people like thrill and adventure sports, and others are experience seekers.
And it's why there isn't one best way to help someone who is grieving, who is recovering, who is depressed, who has experienced trauma.
Which is why our conversation soon shifted to my blog post, For The Love of God -- STOP Asking People If They're Okay. In it, I wrote:
The post continued:
This is important information for anyone who's trying to help or support someone.
Your good intentions... could have very demoralizing and counter-productive effects.
For example, consider depression. Depression tends to manifest as either feelings of disconnection/low communion (e.g., "I'm lonely," "No one loves me," I don't have a single friend that I can confide in," etc.) or feelings of helplessness/low agency (e.g., "I feel helpless," "I feel worthless," "It's hard to get out of bed in the morning," etc.).
So say you've got a friend who's feeling depressed. You want to help. So every time you see them, you say, "Sweetie, how are you?" "Are you okay?"
Such questions are high in communion. They show you care. But... they're also high in agency -- basically what they mean is, "I'm okay and you're not, so let me help you."
If your friend is struggling with feelings of low communion, your questions will make them feel good, loved, cared for.
But if they're struggling with feelings of low agency, your high-agency questions force them to make a choice:
1. A high-agency response, which, as I mentioned, causes tension ("I'm FINE -- WHY do you ask?" "Bug off!")
2. A low-agency response, which is the opposite of what would help them feel better.
Another way well-meaning friends and family members try to help... is by offering unsolicited (and often uninformed -- ask me how many people said I should try acupuncture after my shoulder dislocation!) advice. "Snap out of it!" "You should try getting more exercise!" "Try eating healthier foods!"
Is this something that helps, or hurts? On the one hand, you're showing you care, which might help. On the other, what you're basically saying is, "The problem is you're too dumb to take care of yourself. Do as I say."
The only way to know for sure... is to ask.
Though a safe assumption, when it comes to unsolicited advice, is: DON'T DO IT. No one likes unsolicited advice. It's like the gravest social sin you can commit. If someone wants advice, they typically use words like, "I don't know what to do," or, "What would you do if you were me?" or, "I've tried everything and I can't think of anything else," or, "Can you help?"
Another thing about advice: whether it's wanted might depend on who you are.
Did I just have a baby and you are a pediatrician? Then fire away.
But if you're anyone else... just shut up. Literally every mom I've ever spoken to about it has complained about the unbearable quantities of unsolicited advice they get from everyone -- mothers-in-law, friends who are parents, friends who aren't parents, strangers in the park, randos at the grocery store.
Unless they specifically say, "Did you ever have this problem? What did you do?" "Do you have any recommendations for ___?" etc., they don't want your advice.
This is probably the part where 30% of readers get their panties in a bunch and exclaim, "BUT IF I CAN'T GIVE THEM UNSOLICITED ADVICE THEY DON'T EVEN WANT, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO HELP THEM???!!!!!!"
So I will again reply: ask them.
Because everyone is different, and no two people are the same.
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About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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