how to help someone going through a tough time

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How can you be a friend to someone who’s experiencing something horrible? As a police officer, Jeremy Brewer has spent years interacting with citizens in times of profound need, often after someone passes away.

“Responding to death calls has taught me so much about the human experience,” he shares in his recent TED Talk.

Brewer’s talk focuses on death calls, but his lessons apply to lower-stakes situations, too. What can we learn from his experiences? For starters, we can connect and communicate with a person who’s dealing with a death, a breakup, a job loss, or something else that just… hurts. 💔

slow down, and create a “respect space”

Brewer was once on a call where a woman’s husband had passed away. At one point, a neighbor came in and, hearing the news, hugged the woman. But instead of accepting the hug, the wife pushed it away. Why? Despite the neighbor’s good intentions, they misjudged the moment and, in their haste to do the right thing, only made the situation worse.

Instead of rushing to meet a (perceived) need, Brewer suggests, the right response is to pause and take a breath. When someone is struggling, you don’t always know what they need. Instead of doing what you think is right, try to create what Brewer calls a “respect space.” This isn’t about respecting the other person’s space; rather, it’s about creating a space for the two of you to inhabit—together.

Here’s another way to think of it: You know those times when you’ve had a bad day and need to come home and just vent? You’re not looking for help or a solution. You just need to speak your truth and be heard. The same is true for people going through trauma.

The most important thing you can do for someone in crisis: Just be there.

Let the person engage you if they choose, and remember: It’s not about you. Just be there for the other person.

“One of the most important parts of respecting space is not always having to have an answer,” Brewer explains.

The pandemic has made it harder to be there for the ones you care about, but a one-on-one video or voice call can do wonders for the person who’s struggling. Whether it’s a friend who is sharing personal news, a significant other who’s describing their feelings, or a family member waiting for a medical diagnosis, you can help just by being there, even in complete silence.

“There’s never a bad time to build a connection,” he says. “Emotions and vulnerability can be so hard for some people. I understand that. But in human moments, people want human.”


Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash


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