Hello beautiful people.
It has been an exceptionally busy time for me, as I’m catching up on my volunteering shifts this week. Normally under these circumstances I would be extra exhausted, but when you invest your time in something you love, it takes a little less energy out of you.
I volunteer at the Distress Centre here in Calgary, answering the phones on the crisis lines. I truly love it.
I’ve learned a lot from this experience, but one thing I’ve truly taken from this is understanding what people need when they are seriously down.
They don’t want you to solve their problems, or fix everything, or even necessarily tell them what you would do in their situation. They don’t want you to throw solutions at them.
They want to be heard.
6 months ago, this would have been a problem for me. You see, I was your typical fixer. If you came to me with a problem, I would jump right into guiding you on how to fix it, the way I would. If I could have, I would have jumped in your body and done it for you, just to make sure you got it right.
I’ve come a long way.
When most people first encounter a problem, it takes them time to get to the ‘solutions’ stage. This is the stage where they decide what they are going to do about said problem. In the mean time, what they need to get through their difficulty is understanding.
They need to be comforted.
So here are a few points on what I’ve learned about comforting another.
- Empathy. This means leveling with them. This means understanding. This means ‘getting’ what they are going through because you are able to step into their shoes. Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is “that must suck for you”. Empathy is “that sucks, I’m here with you and I can see your pain”.
- Active listening. Often people will listen, but all the while are actually just thinking about what they will say next. We’ve all been there! It makes you feel like you aren’t being heard. Active listening is participating at an appropriate time in such a way that lets the person know that you are listening. A good way of doing this is rephrasing what they have said and asking if that’s what they meant.
- Genuine caring. Be invested. This can be hard if your not an overly emotional person. If you can’t work out a connection with the person, find a connection with their story. Find a connection with the fact that we are united in that none of us are immune from the challenges of life.
- Let them know they aren’t crazy, abnormal, or damaged. I often hear people who call the lines say “oh god, I must sound crazy!”. Honestly they don’t – they sound like regular people who are struggling.
I hope you find this helpful the next time someone comes to you with a problem! I believe that thinking about and changing the way I help people in crisis has propelled me into being a better person.
Have a great day!