As much as anyone wants to be positive and always look at the world through rose-colored glasses, life is full of ups and downs and you are bound to hit some bumpy patches. You may think that you would be the perfect support system for a loved one in need, but are you really prepared when a tragedy strikes? It could be a family member, friend, or even a close colleague, that needs you to be part of their support system. This can be a touchy time, and there are things that should be said and other things that most definitely not be said or done.
How to be a Good Support System During a Tragedy
If you have found yourself in a situation where you just don’t know the exact right thing to say or do, this is totally normal. When we find ourselves in a new situation it is easy to become a little lost and unsure of how to react right away. With this being said, it is best to listen more than you talk as you won’t want to say the wrong thing, which is way easier said than done! A good support system is solid, consistent, and there for you no matter what.
Be there and listen! You might be surprised at how much one will talk if you choose to not talk as much. This might sound counterintuitive and unnatural but a good support system will ask a few key questions giving ample time for response as the other person is processing a lot all at once. So, don’t just dive in and bombarded them with a bunch of questions as they are most likely in shock and trying to process and comprehend everything that has happened to them and what their future looks like now.
Also, be cognizant of what they are going through but also remember their whole life does not surround this tragedy. People will move on when they see fit and this process will come in waves and will shape them as a person in the future. At the same time, they will also appreciate knowing they are still the same person as before and you won’t treat them differently because of what happened. Life will move on for them eventually, but a solid and reliable support system is still needed past the shock of a tragedy.
Read More: Exploration of Grief Therapy
What to say and not to say to be a good support system
First do not, make this about you. In order to be a good support system then you need to provide support. Despite what you are feeling this is not about you or your relationship, this is about the one you love and care for. You are probably feeling pain and hurt from the tragedy as well but in order to be a good friend you need to be the solid support system they need and put your friend and what they are going through first.
What To say:
- I love you – Sometimes the easiest thing to say that will have the most impact and no more words are needed.
- I am here for you – That’s all they really need to know, that you are there as their support system when they need you.
- Can I do anything to help? – Let them tell you what they need, what you think they may need may not be at all what they really need.
- Do you want to talk about it? – You may want to talk about it and maybe even think they do, but maybe they don’t. If you ask if they want to talk about something then they won’t be forced to talk about anything and more comfortable when they are ready to confide in you.
- I am here to listen – Open ended, meaningful and helpful so they know you are their support system when they are ready. It will be on their terms, not yours.
What not to say:
- He/she is better off – No one wants to be told that someone is better off while they are suffering, even if it might be the truth it is not helpful at all.
Look on the bright side – The bright side of what?! That is what they will think if you say that, regardless of the “bright side” (that only you might be able to see), they are dealing with lots of emotions and the bright side is not one of them right now.
- It could have been worse – Ouch! Sure things could always be worse, but is thinking it could be worse, going to make anyone feel better. This isn’t a bad haircut, it’s a life-changing event that will most likely alter their future.
- One day this won’t really matter – Eh probably not true and very hurtful thing to say.
- I know you are hurting, but… – No matter how you choose to end that sentence, it won’t help at all. They are hurting and that’s all that matters.
- You should really (enter any unsolicited advice)– Pretty much keep any advice you think might be helpful to yourself, at this time it is most likely not helpful at all and not what someone wants to hear from their support system.
A good support system knows and understands there are stages of grief that everyone goes through-shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not every stage is equal and some stages may last longer or be shorter. You may feel as if one stage is lingering and could get impatient, this is normal, but keep those thoughts and feelings to yourself.
Continuing the Relationship After the Dust Settles
Even though you might have been friends since you both were in diapers or have been each other’s confidant in every up and down of life for as long as you can remember, your friend may pull back from you. It probably has nothing to do with you, or maybe you remind them of past life that they feel is lost. Which frankly is true in some respects, but that does not mean that will change your relationship forever. All relationships go through different phases and developments and being a support system is just another part of life’s ups and downs.
Or maybe they have a new friend who has seemed to have come out of the blue because they have gone through the same things and you might be feeling let out. There is sympathy and empathy and they are not the same thing. Just because you empathize, you can’t always sympathize. This does not mean you are not a good support system, it just means they also need others to help them process everything.
Know that even though your friend may seem as if they have moved on and everything is back to “normal” for them. This doesn’t mean that they may still are not struggling under the surface or that they won’t have setbacks here and there. It is totally normal for someone to have triggers that can make them re-live the experience and be thrown back into all of the emotions the tragedy originally caused. As time goes on this won’t be as frequent but can easily pop up at any time.
Life will move on, people heal, and relationships will be forever changed. At times while going through a tragedy with a loved one you may also feel lost, confused, and unsure of what the future holds for your relationship. This too shall pass and often relationships are even stronger after surviving a tragedy as you learn more about each other and grow both together and individually. Knowing when and how to be part of a good support system will help you your entire life.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Moms With Depression Can Lean On Their Partners.
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