One of the most awkward situations in life is when someone you love is hurting and you just don’t know what to say when you are with them. It is a profoundly intimate moment for you to be there for someone who is hurting – whether they are your spouse, best friend, family member, or even (especially if only) an acquaintance or stranger.
Once you are free to exit the situation, you feel a mixture of relief and shame as you go over every word you did or didn’t say, every gesture of concern and affection you did or didn’t extend, and every breath that sounded too loud in your head and filled your mind with wondering if he or she could tell how uncomfortable you were.
If you’ve lived long enough and loved enough people in your life, then you have found yourself in this situation at least once, if not many more times. I have good news for you today. Unless you’re genuinely rude, it’s actually difficult to do or say or not do or not say the wrong thing in this kind of situation. Not only does your effort to be there mean so much; sometimes, just being there without a word or an action to rescue is the very best help of all.
As a favorite teacher of mine has written, “We must learn to bear the pain of others without intervening.” (Bert Hellinger, Rising in Love ) So often, the words and actions we search for in times of another’s distress are really the thing we’re hoping will make us feel rescued, will make us feel like good enough people, will protect us from the shame of not knowing what to do or say.
Certainly, there are times to intervene and save a life! What I’m talking about is when someone you love hurts and what they really need is permission to be in it without intervention. And they don’t need your verbal permission. The best permission of all is the willingness to sit with them and be present no matter what, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. That kind of expression of love can be everything they need to begin the healing process – a process that, at the end of the day, belongs to them alone.