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.