Sunday, July 06, 2014

"How can I help?"

My family is going through some tough times right now. I appreciate the people who want to help, but sometimes there isn't anything that anyone can do. I had one friend text message me about a dozen times yesterday, not taking "no thanks" for an answer and suggesting different things she could do to help. I finally just stopped replying to her messages.  

I don't want to blog about that situation right now, but it made me think about the ways that people trying to help can sometimes be unhelpful.  This seems especially apropos given the "Fitblogger Tough Love" session that a lot of us have been blogging about, because one of the big themes was how we can be supportive without being either enabling or too aggressive.

I read somewhere that the biggest gift you can give to someone in trouble is not to worry about them. I thought that was counter-intuitive at first, but it does make sense. Worrying suggests that you don't trust the person to help him- or herself.  It can feel disempowering.  Worrying and hovering can also be really annoying.  

I posted about how I still get "encouraging" remarks and training tips from people who mistake me for a new runner or triathlete, even though I have been running for more than 20 years and doing triathlons for more than 10. Even if I were a newbie, I might still find those "You are AWESOME!" comments as patronizing. No runner I know would say it (at least in the tone of voice I'm imagining it) to a faster runner as they were being passed -- they would only say it to a slower runner they were passing. It would, at least to me, seem like a bigger gift to take all other athletes seriously as athletes, no matter what their level or current size.  Remember that you don't always know the whole story. 

My one concern with the "Fitblogger Tough Love" session was that it might become a license to troll or give officious advice. I was happy when the conversation did not go in that direction. Most of the time, excess weight is not a result of a lack of information.  Most of us know what to do, and it's just that we have our own challenges or physical or mental roadblocks that get in the way of doing it.  And excess weight can be also be stubborn and doesn't always respond immediately to attempts to eliminate it.  Sometimes trusting the other person and giving him or her time and space to keep working a program is the best gift.

I think a lot of well-intentioned people can become frustrated when they can't fix other people's problems, but most of the time, fixing is not what we want or need. My advice (if you want it) is to reach out from a place of love and support, but from one person to another equal, not from a place of superiority.  When circumstances are different, that person may be able to do the same for you.  


  1. I appreciate your post. What I've learned is to say and/or what I most hope to hear is "I can't fix it, but I'm here to walk through it with you." As you have said, that is what we really want....friends/family to walk through our difficult times with us, not to meddle.

    Whatever it is, I'm sure you will find your way through it. :-)

  2. You made me think of my friend Diane, who when her husband died very unexpectedly and I asked what I could do to help, asked me to check back with her a few months later when dust settled and everyone else sort of went back to their lives. And when I checked back what she needed, then, was for me to go to Curves with her. And actually that was how my weightloss started. So my helping her, helped me.

    Other things people have wanted me to do over the years -
    Watch kids so they could be at hospital (something your sister might need so the kids can keep a normal schedule and sleep in their own beds),
    Cook extra lean ground hamburger and chicken breasts and freeze them so she could make dinners much easier,
    Grocery shop (very specific list, mostly produce),
    Cook casseroles to feed family at hospital,
    Errands (pick up dry cleaning, RX, etc),
    Clean her kitchen,
    Read books and play games with a child so mom could pack,
    Take child to dentist and other routine appts,
    Drive her carpool when home with a preemie.

    Those were all different people over many years.

    If your family situation continues for a long time. There might be things that would be of help. But I agree, sometimes, help can be more work than help. I think it depends on how long it continues.

  3. I will add your family to my Hail Mary list. Hopefully you are all able to comfort each other as your family deals with this. Sometimes tough times make everything so stressful. And I appreciate that you are all in close proximity. My husband's brothers are all in different states, so travel made everything tough with both parents' needs. I will be thinking of you.

  4. I am sorry you are going through some rough stuff with your family right now. I hope things get better, soon! :)

    And it's so hard to know what to say to people. I know people who completely shut down when they are going through something, and others who want the support. Just say it from a place of love, like you said :) And quit trying to fix everything. LOL.

  5. I'm sorry for your family situation Jen! Thinking good thoughts for you and hope you are hanging in there comrade.

    I think whether it's tough love or another kind, if it starts with genuinely listening to that person first and really hearing them before offering advice or whatnot, what happens next is usually helpful for both parties!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07