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How to really show up for someone

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Just showing up for someone can be transformative but it's important we know how to make it really count.

When we talk about showing up, we’re talking about bearing witness to other people’s pain, joy, and their true selves. We’re talking about validating their experiences, truly seeing them as they are — vulnerable, scared and ‘messy’. We’re talking about making it known that they are not alone. We’re flipping the coin on how we need others to show up for us.

Ultimately when we show up for someone, we’re allowing them to feel seen and heard without trying to change their experience or feelings. This requires our vulnerability. It means that even though we might not even know what to say that we embrace the fact that just us being there and listening is absolutely enough.

Pay attention to cues

Be aware of cues that might indicate someone isn’t doing so great. They might look tired or might have dropped the ball on hygiene. They might be experiencing weight fluctuations or might have withdrawn. Some of these cues might be hard to gauge when many of us are in lockdown at the moment but we often sense when someone isn’t wholly themselves. You don’t need to comment on the cues — it’s all just data that might alert you to the fact it’s a good time to check in and ask how that person is doing.

Using active doing language is important.

Active language allows meaningful exchanges to happen. It feels like an arm really reaching out in a meaningful way. Here are some really simple examples how active language can feel good:

How are you doing right now?

(Rather than: I hope you’re doing okay)

What’s been happening?

(Rather than I trust all is good in your world)

I’d like to come over and bring you some food later today. Is that okay?

(Rather than: Let me know if you need anything)

Take it to voice

If someone texts you and hints at not being okay or seems not themselves. Let them know you’d like to call them. Let them know you want to hear more about how stuff is. Text is a hard way to communicate the depth and breadth of our emotions. It can be a brave thing when someone hints at being not so great in a text but asking to chat on the phone takes the conversation to a deeper level.

Just being there is enough

Sometimes there aren’t the right words for grief, for anxiety for depression or ‘blah’. Being there and being able to say I’m glad you’re able to tell me how you’re feeling is enough. Hold back from offering well-meaning advice (unless you’re asked). Listen wholly (and notice when you’re tempted to interrupt). Aim to really listen with your full attention (trying not to formulate a good response in your head as you listen).

Affirm what you’re hearing and seeing

This allows a person to feel validated, listened to and supported. “I can hear that was really tough for you” or “I can see how frustrating that would be.”

Ask Questions

Being present and listening is powerful. It’s okay to ask questions too along the way. “How was that for you?” or “What would have felt better for you?” How we might feel in those circumstances could be very different to how they might feel. So, ask.

Know what boundaries feel right

Trust your knowing when it comes to how you support another person, bearing in mind we each have needs. This blog post talks about the importance of boundaries. Be sure that in your support you’re allowing another to draw on their own wisdom and strength rather than having them feel that strength is located outside of themselves (in this ‘rescuing’ dynamic we risk enabling other).

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