Can you stand up
Of the power of comfort
Giving consolation is not an easy task. And that, although probably all of us know moments when we are sad and need people to lift us up. Because of losses, pain or psychological crises. And yet it can be incredibly difficult to comfort yourself and to find the supposedly "right words". Why is that? Why do we often feel so helpless when we are confronted with the blows of fate of others? We'll show you what's behind it and how you can comfort loved ones in difficult times.
What does it mean to give consolation?
We humans are social beings. As such, we want others to be fine - especially those who are important to us. If they are not, because they have experienced a loss and are sad, for example, our wellbeing is usually imbalanced, we are affected and want to help. To comfort then means that we uplift our counterpart in his suffering, calm him down or cheer him up. It does not (unfortunately) mean that we can relieve or end precisely this suffering and burdens. But maybe we can make it a little easier for those affected by giving them consolation and getting through the difficult times together.
Why consoling can be difficult
When it comes to supposedly small things like an open knee, most of us will be able to comfort us quite well. To do this, we mainly fall back on our own experiences and on what we have learned from others in matters of consolation. We usually know what an open knee feels like - painful - and what to do at such a moment - namely, blow.
In the case of other, greater burdens such as resignation or life-changing events such as the loss of a loved one, however, it often looks very different and it is difficult to comfort. One of the reasons for this is that, especially in the event of severe strokes of fate, we do not have our own empirical values with which we can put ourselves in the shoes of our counterpart. Or we have experienced similar things that we need to think about and that completely take us over. On the other hand, the suffering of others can remind us that we can get into such a difficult situation ourselves. Then we are confronted, so to speak, with our own fears and perhaps try to avoid them. All of this can make it difficult to really turn to the other person and give consolation.
In cultures in which death is openly addressed as part of life and has a fixed place in people's consciousness and everyday life, comforting is often easier. For example, in Mexico, on the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos), life and death are openly celebrated. This can reduce inhibitions to talk about stressful topics and to grieve together - this can also provide consolation.
Find ways to give comfort
How we give comfort to others has a lot to do with how we treat ourselves and our feelings. For example, if we tend to avoid unpleasant feelings, we may do the same with our counterpart. If, on the other hand, we are in close contact with our experience and allow ourselves to cry, for example, we are probably much more open in comfort.
Regardless of what applies to you, by reading this article, you have apparently already taken the first important step of comforting. You have recognized that your counterpart is burdened and needs consolation. We'll show you how to deal with such moments and what is important.
What not to say or do while comforting
- Consoling - "Get in touch if something is." These mostly well-intentioned offers often hide their own insecurity and the desire to avoid the situation. But people who are going through a difficult time and need consolation usually cannot do just that - get in touch. Be it due to a lack of strength or fear of unnecessarily burdening others.
- Belittling - "That's not so bad after all." That may be true for you, but not necessarily for your counterpart. By lightening the stress, however, you are signaling that there is really no reason to be sad or to comfort you.
- Get impatient - "Are you still sad?" As different as the loads, so differently people react to them. But if you apply your own yardstick and your own ideas of the "appropriate duration" of a crisis, you can put your counterpart under additional pressure and question feelings.
- Pity - "I'm so sorry for you." Even such often well-intentioned words can make the other person feel even smaller and more helpless. Instead, try to identify the trigger and stick with the other person's feelings ("I'm so sorry that you feel sad").
- Silence - It is a natural need to want to avoid unpleasant situations. But if you ignore the stress of your counterpart and pretend nothing has happened, it usually doesn't help anyone. This not only creates feelings of guilt, but also gives the person affected the impression of not being seen, of being out of place and of having undesirable feelings.
What you can do and say to give comfort
- Show that you are there - Donating comfort is not about the perfect comforting words and the one correct behavior. Often it is even the small gestures that can cheer you up. This can be a short goodnight text message (“I'm thinking of you”) or a homemade lasagna. Or you are silent together when words are missing. It is important to show and let you feel that you are there.
- Pay attention to each other's needs - Feeling comforted can mean something completely different to all of us. So ask yourself what the comforted one needs right now. A hug, a distraction, or a conversation? If you are unsure, then you can also ask ("How can I support you?") Or think about what else has helped you or your counterpart. Going back to familiar things can then feel good to you too.
- Be open - It is completely normal to be insecure when dealing with stressed people. Therefore, say openly that you don't know what to do or say, for example. This is usually more helpful than walking away for these reasons. It also shows the other person that he or she is not alone in feeling helpless.
- Endure your own insecurity - Addressing your own insecurity also means enduring it and staying there. This is an important task of comforters. And ultimately it can even be relieving to make it clear to yourself that you cannot know and do everything.
- Take care - Consoling is not always easy and can cost strength. Therefore, create a balance and rest periods for yourself. For example, you can try to be there for the other person for a certain period of time and then consciously do something just for yourself.
- Respect the boundaries - Donating consolation does not mean that your counterpart also allows this consolation or that things are immediately better. Crises take time and there are limits to comfort. So try not to take such developments personally, but to accept them as a natural process.
Keep an eye on your own well-being
When people close to us are not doing well, we are touched. But we too are only human. So if - for whatever reason - you can't give consolation, that's perfectly fine. You can say no and also get other people on board, for example by consulting with friends or family. Or you can motivate your counterpart to get medical or psychotherapeutic advice. Exactly what you can of course use for yourself. For example, if the comforting company is very burdensome or overwhelming for you. That's why we show you on our blog how you can find a place in psychotherapy.
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