When Someone You Care About Is Discouraged
A wise Arab once said, “One hand doesn’t clap.”
One hand needs another hand to make an effective sound. Similarly, humans aren’t meant to function alone. We need others to help us accomplish goals, to laugh and grow together, and to keep us from feeling isolated.
When social isolation occurs, it accentuates any problem. If you’re grieving alone, it stings for a longer time. If you’re making a decision alone, it may not be the wisest because you are missing other angles. If you are discouraged alone, well, it’s hard to talk yourself out of it when no one else is listening.
So, if you know someone who is currently down in the dumps, consider stepping in. It’s an honor and responsibility to be that second hand who helps the struggling one to clap. Here are some thoughts to guide you:
What to look for
How can you tell if your friend or loved one is discouraged? Check for some of these signs of discouragement and possible depression:
Low energy (distinct change from before)
Weight gain or loss
Changed sleep patterns
Conversations tend to be negative (alerting us to possible negative thought patterns they’re entertaining)
Loss of interest in hobbies and people that were previously life-giving
Sensitivity to little things—easily becoming irritated or angry
Stuck in a defeating situation (for example, a tough situation that they can't get out of or one where they are continually failing to accomplish a goal)
A big, traumatic event may not have disheartened this person. Often it’s small “leaks,” like holes in a bucket, that slowly deplete a person over time.
The person may not be aware that they appear “down.” They feel like they have simply drawn back and retreated inward. This is the time for someone like you to step in and to see what kind of support and encouragement they need.
What to say
Learn to listen well and to ask questions. Ask how they are doing and pay attention to their response. Instead of responding right away, reflect back what you heard or ask another question to delve deeper. This shouldn’t feel like an interview or interrogation though! Use good other-centered listening and bite your tongue when you want to give advice. Wait. Listen. Use word pictures to help them understand what they're feeling. The goal is to really hear and know the person.
Let them know they aren’t alone. What do you say to convey this? It doesn’t mean to promise you’ll never let them down or to share a riveting story about how you handled the same struggle successfully. Instead, show them you long to try to understand and enter their world right then and there by listening. Through your leaning in to engage, they will feel less isolated.
Look for progression. What changes for the better did you notice in the person over the past few days or weeks? Maybe he is making a point to go to the gym or reduce sugary snacks. Maybe she is becoming aware that her negative attitude has affected her kids and wants to stop. Look for signs of life and a desire to improve. Point these aspects out.
Give them hope. This MUST be done after you have listened well and the person feels understood. If they don’t feel “heard,” this will seem like glib optimism (“It will all be OK.”) or motherly advice (“I think that once you get a full few nights of sleep, you’ll feel better.”). None of us likes that!
Does their discouragement stem from a failure or regret? Remind them that the event doesn’t define who they are. Is it from a loss? Try to imagine feeling what they're going through and affirm your love for them. Sometimes just sitting together in silence is better than words. Is it undefined? Remind them how they came through an earlier hardship. Think of a song, verse, or thought that has helped you persevere through hardship.
What to do
Acts of service. People usually respond better to specific offers of help than a general, “Call me if you need anything.” Instead, look for needs and offer something specific. Would they like a meal? Someone to clean their house? Watch their kids? Wash their pile of laundry? If you aren’t able to personally do these things, consider asking your house helper to help.
Spend time together. Take a walk, watch a movie, go out for coffee or an avocado shake, play tennis. What are some hobbies your friend used to enjoy before this “funk?” Times together allow further talking and may stir up positive memories.
Think of ways to give them courage. Discouragement is the taking away of courage—courage to live well and to face reality wholeheartedly. Know your friend or loved one well enough to understand what encourages them. Stuck? Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Involve others. It’s a heavy weight to bear someone else’s burden alone. Reach out to See Beyond. We are equipped and ready to help others see beyond their current horizon to gain new hope. Having someone else come alongside to understand can bring life and new ideas to the situation.
Thank you for wanting to care for this disheartened person. It’s a loving, sacrificial thing to do. You noticed them, cared for them, and now, we trust that they have some steps to move forward.
Ah, I’m starting to hear it. Do you also? It’s the sound of clapping.