Helping others to help me

I find that sometimes, when I reach out to people for help, I need to help them know how to care for me.

I remember one time in 2013 when I was staying at a friend’s place in Berkeley. I had just finished my first quarter of law school, and was visiting friends for winter break. One night, I was on the brink of an emotional crisis. Real falling-apart, crying-my-eyes-out moment. My friend wasn’t there, but another guy was. We were friendly, but didn’t really know each other, although we were part of the same church.

I went to him and said, “Hey, could we talk? I really need some help right now. I’m honestly falling apart and I need someone to listen. I know that it can feel kind of scary to be in your shoes right now. Maybe you feel like you don’t know what you should say. But I don’t need you to say anything. I don’t need any advice. I don’t need you to fix my problems. I just need you to listen. Could you do that?”

He did. He listened as I talked through a lot of stuff I was carrying. He didn’t try to fix my problems. He didn’t give me advice. But his simple act of listening was such a gift. In the end, he said a short prayer, and that was it. That was all I needed.

Later, that friend said, “You know, when you first started sharing, I didn’t know what to do. It was kind of scary. But since you said that all you needed was for someone to listen, I just focused on that. Thanks for sharing your story. I feel really honored that you trusted me.”

I know that my friends want to help me when I am in crisis mode. But friends don’t always know what to do. They want to help, but they’re scared of saying the wrong thing and making it worse. And I’m not saying that every person who is ever in crisis has the responsibility of always telling other people how to be supportive. That’s exhausting. There are times when friends just have to step up, be a decent human being, and help me deal. But in this interaction, by clearly articulating what I needed at that moment, it helped my friend help me.

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