How Can We Support Those That Need It?
Two different people in an audience of 40 in my conference session at Rady had almost the same identical question:
- How can we be better support to others?
- What’s the best way to be “social support” for someone who needs it?
First of all, I LOVE that this question came up. It tells me that there are loving hearts out there who want to be there for their friends and colleagues. We all need that, especially those trying to deal with and heal from sexual harassment. Please don’t ever forget that.
Second of all, please know that “being supportive” will take on many different faces, depending on the stage of recovery that your friend or colleague is experiencing. Here are a few of the things I appreciated from my colleagues and friends throughout my healing process.
If the person you are supporting is still in the Anger Stage, they will more than likely take that anger out on you. They might blame you. They might yell at you. Be there anyway. They might not know that they are projecting their anger. Don’t take it personally (The 2nd Agreement in Toltec Wisdom) They might do that because you are safe. They really want to yell at their harasser and the people that should be helping but aren’t. Trust in the fact that you are already their friend and weather the anger with steadfast love and friendship. If they need to yell, let them yell, within reason, resist the urge to yell back. If they need to vent, let them vent, within reason, resist the urge to control, judge or fix the venting.
On this Mother’s Day, here’s one example of what support for venting can look like: Whack Weezer – The healing power of humor here is awesome!
Look for Signs of Deeper Distress
When I was deep in the heart of my Depression Stage, I knew I was depressed but I did not know I was experiencing PTSD. I fed myself comfort food, I stopped working out, and I began putting on the pounds. I stopped making the food I ate and ordered take out over and over again because it was easy and I was exhausted. If I had a friend that could have come over with an extra casserole or pre-made salad, I totally would have enjoyed that. If a friend asked me to go for a walk, I would have enjoyed that too. I might have refused to accept either in an offer ahead of time, but if the invitation to exercise or the casserole showed up at my doorstep along with the smile of a friend, I could not have refused it. Then the sit-ups are easier because the workout partner is “in my face,” in a friendly way. Then, the casserole is easier than take out because it’s already in my fridge!
Learn the signs of depression and learn the signs of PTSD. Do what you can to encourage your friend to seek mental health support from a professional. There is no shame in getting the help you need. Maybe they need to know it’s free through most companies. Maybe they need to have a referral to a good one. It might be easier for you to “ask for a friend” who the good LMFT therapists are in town and if they do trauma work, than it would be for your friend with PTSD who has a hard time getting off the couch. Maybe they need someone to walk them to the appointment and sit there until they come out. Many times, I left my sessions sobbing. In my case, I needed to sob. It was part of my venting. Even though my therapist did such good work to bring the issues to the surface for me to deal with, I had to suppress them again to drive home. Sitting with someone to process the issues, without judgement, can help. A walk along the beach or on the trail or even going out for a meal would have been lovely.
Listen for the Ask
In recovery, any type of recovery, asking for help is key to a successful recovery. It is a wonderful sign that they are moving from one stage of grief and loss to the next, when they start to ask you for help. When they ask, no matter what they ask for, do what you can to provide that help as quickly and authentically as you can (within reason of course!) If they ask you to ask your mother for the recipe to the most artery-clogging comfort food, provide it. If they ask for you to go on a road trip, go. If you can’t go right now but can go later, they might say “forget it”. If that happens, try to be the next one to suggest an outing. The point is they need an escape; even a movie might do the trick. If they ask you to leave them alone, do it (for a while). Then ask them if it’s OK for you to come back to them.
It’s All About Trust
People suffering from sexual harassment, and especially those who fear retaliation, might soon narrow their circle of trust. They might shrink back from normal social situations because they might not know who to trust. They might not know what side you are on and whether you will stay steady through their personal storm.
If you are an ally to a person suffering through sexual harassment, do what you can to be present for them and express that intention with them until they totally trust that you are there for them, even when they don’t trust you. Before you do though, ask yourself if this is something you truly are ready to do. Not every one can. The best think you can do is assess what you are willing to do to support them and then make that intention clear to your friend or colleague. Otherwise not only do you put their trust and your friendship in jeopardy, but you also put their recovery in jeopardy too.
Summing Up – The “Social” Petal
One of the 5 petals I encourage victims and witnesses to nurture is the “Social” petal. We need to rely on allies to help us through the difficulty. I have been truly blessed with allies along my journey and I am grateful to them every day. I am very much impressed by these two audience members who want to know how to be a better friend to you. I truly believe that where there is one, there are 10. So in my mind, there were 20 strong supportive allies out there in the audience. Your colleagues and friends are very lucky people indeed!
If you were suffering through the storm of sexual harassment, how would you want your loved ones and colleagues to support you?