We care so deeply about the loved ones in our lives that when we witness them grieving a heart-wrenching loss, we want to help. A research study conducted by Keltner at the University of California, Berkley explains there is growing evidence that humans have a “compassionate instinct”. To further explain, compassion is a natural and automatic response we use for survival. Human beings are compelled to help others who are hurting. It is a false assumption or belief that we cannot help others during a time of loss. Sadly, it is a lack of information and helpful tools that limits us in our aspirations to help others who are grieving.
There are many statements that are vocalized such as, “I just don’t know what to say,” or “I freeze up and do not know what to do to help.” After a death, divorce or any kind of loss, many of us struggle with how to support the grieving person. This is not because we do not want to help or that we cannot help, we just lack the information on how to help.
Here are 3 helpful tips on how to support a grieving person in your life:
Tip #1: Do not tell people what to do or how to feel. When we grieve a loss in our lives we are heart-broken, devastated, and in deep emotional pain. If someone tells us what to do, how to grieve, or what to expect or feel, it does not help us. We each have unique relationships to the loss we are grieving and we all grieve in our own unique way. Everyone has different reactions and emotions after a loss in their lives, so it is most helpful to validate the grieving person’s feelings as both normal and natural, no matter what they are. Do not create guidelines for their grief.
Tip #2: Listen without responding. Grieving people want and need to feel heard. When you listen to grieving people’s stories, feelings, and memories, listen like a “heart with ears”. If we listen with the intention to respond with advice or intellect, we are not truly present. This will limit us from showing compassion and empathizing with the grieving person. When we are concerned about saying “the right thing” and are preoccupied with our own thoughts and ideas, we may miss out on the messages from the grieving person. If you are present with the griever, your ability to support them will be more natural and in the moment. Sometimes all a grieving person needs is to feel heard and offered a hug.
Tip #3: Respond emotionally, not intellectually. We can study, read self-help books, and gain a lot of intellectual knowledge about grief. There is a lot of helpful, correct information available, as well as a lot of misinformation. When a person is in a vulnerable state and sharing their feelings surrounding a loss, support is less effective if we are continuously providing intellectual comments. When we transition from our heads to our hearts, we become a safe and trusting support system for the grieving person. Statements such as, “I can’t imagine how that must feel for you,” or “I hear that this is making you really upset,” or simply, “I don’t know what to say,” are helpful, as we are speaking from the heart and are acknowledging the griever’s experience. When we are grieving we are sad, hurt, and vulnerable. We want our feelings to be acknowledged, not minimized, analyzed, or judged with intellectual comments.
This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.
Article Reference: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/the-compassionate-mind#.WHVl-FMrKUk May/June 2013 Observer
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