How to help someone who is suffering

A lot of times, we see our close ones, our friends behaving in ways that are making them suffer. 

Sometimes we think the solutions are obvious too. Except that when we suggest them, the friend won’t listen. Instead, they often push you away. And then proceed to make matters worse for themselves!

We really want to help, but have no clue how to get across to them. How can you help them take the right decision? How do you stop them from making foolish decisions and hurting themselves.

Before you jump to help, it is a very good idea to learn how we really make decisions – including foolish ones! Please read this article on How we make decisions – including foolish ones 

We do not choose the good or logical options. We always choose from the options we can see. And how each person sees the situation differs. What is foolish for you can be completely sensible for someone else. And vice versa. 

So whenever you see someone doing something ‘foolish’, remember it is not about behaving foolishly, but seeing differently. 

So whenever you see someone stuck in doing/thinking something clearly silly, pause before you judge and ask:

1. Do they want to get rid of their suffering? 

Very often, what we see as suffering is not suffering for many people. Genuinely. A need to save people who are not looking to be saved, is just about imposing our own standards of happiness on others. Not helping. Feel happy that they are happy, and move on. 

2. If they want to get rid of their suffering, is their solution working for them(not for you)? 

Sometimes, people are happy enough to just ‘share their pain’, ‘vent it out’ and keep moving. Genuinely. Persuading them that their ‘suffering threshold’ is too high, is imposing our own standards of suffering on them. Being their sounding board, shoulder to cry on might be enough. There is no need to solve anything. Sometimes people have not suffered enough to try something new. 

3. Are they looking to get unstuck?

If they want to get rid of their suffering, their solutions are not working, they are feeling stuck and looking to feel unstuck, that is when we can offer to help by asking these questions: 

a) What option is he not able to see? Even if it is obvious to me.

b) How can we help make the perceived pain lesser?

Sometimes we are not able to see options with manageable pain either. Or not able to make them see it. Or not able to reduce the perceived pain. That’s when ‘Seeking professional help’ is also a possibility. To be suggested, not imposed. 

How to convince them to seek professional help?

The same thing applies. ‘Seeking professional help’ is an option, not a solution. It is an invitation to see, not an imposition to follow. 

Here’s a sample conversation that might occur. Let’s say that your friend is undergoing huge relationship troubles. He has tried everything he could. Nothing has worked. He usually shares his pain with you. You listen. That helps. But he seems too far from being happy. You feel for him. You think that counselling might help, but are not sure yourself. 

You: “Hey – so how are things in the relationship? Are you happy?” (First check: If they are happy, then there is nothing to do)

He: “No dude!!! The same daily struggles. In fact yesterday, here’s what happened….” (Shows that the pain still exists)

You: “I know we talk about what’s going on. Hopefully it helps. For sure, it helps me if I can share my problems with someone, even if they cannot offer a solution. What about you? Does talking help? Sometimes I feel bad that the best I can do is listen, which does provide temporary relief. But I cannot do anything to solve the problem.” (Help see the distinction between temporary emotional relief, and actual addressing the challenge)

He: “But what can I do dude!! I can’t stay, I can’t leave!!” (Reveals the options he sees, and that both don’t seem to work)

You: “Ya, I know you have tried everything you could. And it hasn’t worked. And the options you see don’t seem to be helpful either. No use keeping on trying to do the same thing and expecting different results.” (Establish that he has reached a dead end)

He: “Yeah, I know. Feels helpless, frustrating”

(Now you gently gauge openness)

You: “Since nothing has worked, I was thinking should we try newer options? Even if we don’t know whether they will be successful or not?”

He: “What other option??!! Nothing will work. I am stuck with this for life!” 

You: “Ya, I feel the same way too. So I won’t be of any use either. If there is another untested way, would be willing to try?”

He: “What way?”

You: “Take professional help”

He: “From who?? Counselor you mean???” 

You: “Yes” (You don’t rush to justify. You simply answer questions and let it sink in)

He: “Are you crazy??? How can a third person understand what’s going on in our relationship???!!” 

You: “Ya, I agree it seems far fetched” (By agreeing, you are reducing resistance. And also converting ‘impossible’ to ‘difficult’)

He: “Of course!! We have talked everything there is to talk. Plus she would never agree!!”

You: “So I agree we cannot be sure it will work, and getting her to agree would be difficult. But would you be open yourself?”

He: “If it’s not going to work, then what’s the use wasting time?”(He has opened up to the option. Just that he thinks its not going to work. Now you offer support to reduce perceived pain.)

You: “You are right. Why waste time, if chances of success are low? I could help you with that. Research how it works, find some good choices, references, help in fixing appointments…Then you can take a call”

He: “I think you are wasting your time, but ok”

(You get back to him with options)

He: “Dude. Thank you, But like I said, I know it won’t work. She is just too stubborn. She hates me. And I am not sure I want to save the relationship either”

You: “I would feel as hopeless as you are, if I were in your place. But I was thinking, what do we have to lose? It is either banishing yourself to suffering forever, or losing 1 hour of your time and some money.”

He: “How can I speak to an outsider about our personal problems?”

You: “Meaning? Like you are speaking to me? What is your concern?” (You might know, but you are encouraging him to voice it out)

He: “Come on!! You don’t tell outsiders about your personal issues. It stays in the family.”

You: “So you are afraid that you it is not good for the relationship if you share problems with other people. What are you afraid will happen?”

He: “Firstly, that’s not right. Secondly, what if word gets out?”

You: “I don’t know if it is right. I just think, you are doing it to save the relationship itself. What use is doing the right thing for the relationship, if the relationship itself is broken? About your other concern, I have verified multiple times. Complete confidentiality is assured.”

He: “Yaar, there are still so many problems. She won’t listen. People might get to know. Things might become worse. Money down the drain.”

You: “In short, there are many risks. I am not saying it will work. I am simply wondering whether recreating a happy relationship or a peaceful separation or anything that allows you both to live happily for the rest of your life, is worth taking these small risk?”

Then you accept whatever his decision is. If he returns to share his pain, you keep reminding that this option exists. And no matter what option he chooses, you are there for him. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *