By Face to Face With The Sky
#Fearless Family Writer
I like to think of myself as a compassionate person. The type who puts myself in other people’s shoes. I’m there for my friends, and when needed I’m a shoulder to cry on.
But sometimes, I’m not the sweet, compassionate person I think I am.
Last year, my close friend was diagnosed with a mental health condition. We’re in touch almost constantly, sharing feelings and swapping ideas. As someone who has also been through my share of mental illness, I find it easy to have compassion for her.
Until she makes a choice I don’t agree with.
When that happens, I feel my blood boiling. Gone is the compassionate understanding friend. Instead I’m angry. How could she do such a thing? Doesn’t she see she’s only making her recovery harder?
Once I lashed out and gave her a lecture about what she “should” do instead. How do you think that went over? You guessed it: she felt alienated and I felt like was talking to a brick wall. Did she take my advice? Nope. Did it strain our friendship and therefore leave her without the support she needed? Yes.
We made up and our friendship is back to normal. But that experience taught me a powerful lesson. As someone who’s been on both sides—giving and receiving advice about mental illness—let me share with you a few truths.
Truth 1: Assume you do not know what is best for someone with a mental illness.
The only caveat here is safety related. If the individual is in danger of harming themselves, then they need your help to get care. But you’re still walking a fine line. Tell them you care about them and you’re concerned about their safety. Then help them access expert care without giving them a lecture.
Truth 2: You cannot force someone not to suffer. Nor should you.
A common misconception is that all suffering should be ended immediately by whatever means necessary. If you think that your friend is suffering because he is choosing to suffer, take a closer look at the situation. Assuming you know how to “fix” their suffering is besides the point. If they don’t want your help, they have a right to run their own life. Do not deny someone the dignity of choosing their own path, even if it involves suffering. Again, the only caveat here is if the individual is in danger of harming themselves. Then expert care and your love—not a lecture—are needed.
Truth 3: Beware of codependent tendencies.
Examine your desire to “help” your friend. Are you in danger of rescuing in order to make yourself, not them, feel better? Beware of rescuing instead of listening. Sometimes this requires boundary setting on your part—maybe your friend is wanting you to rescue him or her. Either way, tell your friend you care about them and are there to listen, not to fix everything for them.
Truth 4: It’s impossible to understand someone else’s reality.
And the follow up to this: you cannot understand someone else’s reality better than they do. This boundary is vital to families, friendships…really every relationship between human beings ever. Realize people are making the best choices they can according to their minds, emotions, and perceptions, none of which you have access to. We need to establish trust that people are experiencing what they say they are experiencing. And we need to dignify that experience with letting them make their own choices as much as possible.
What do you think of this topic? Have you offered support to someone with a mental health condition? Do you agree or disagree with the ideas above? We’d love to hear your feedback!
Thank you to Face to Face With The Sky for this extremely informative article!
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