By John Strzechocki
The holiday season is here, and with it comes family gatherings, dinners, and events. It’s always fun to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with the family and catch up with what’s been going on in our lives. Arguments are sure erupt over politics when your uncle has a bit too much to drink. However, it’s important to recognize that these little arguments may be more than just family bickering—they may be a cry for help. One thing we all need to be prepared for is to provide holiday support for loved ones who might be struggling this holiday season. Whether it be from a traumatic childhood experience, addiction, or depression, understanding the basis for how loved ones are feeling is one of the best ways to help them.
**If you are afraid someone may be suicidal, contact the suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255
You’re not alone
Dr. Felitti, a physician and chief of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, CA, concluded in the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE study, that both negative and positive childhood experiences affect a person. Additionally, one out of 11 people have experienced over six traumatic childhood events. Dr. Felitti concluded that that this raises the chance for suicide by a staggering 5000%.
Felitti continues that over 90% of people have had at least one traumatic childhood experience. This can cause chronic stress—a major health risk she said can reduce one’s lifespan by as much as 20 years. Signs someone is having difficulty coping with life may include smoking, overeating, binge drinking, and/or drug use. These coping mechanisms are used by people who are trying to escape their life and can’t bear to be themselves in this world. In a year-long research project, Johann Hari, a journalist from Great Britain cited Dr. Bejerot, a Swedish psychiatrist who states that addiction is not derived from certain “chemical hooks” as many believe, but a lack of connection, a lack of a purpose in this world.
Holiday support for loved ones: Ten tips that help
These are some tips to help you be there for your loved ones, and help them cope with their internal conflict:
1. Help them trust themselves
There is no right way to do something. You don’t need to go by the book. There is no guideline in life. Everyone is on their own journey and everyone has their own story. You need to trust trust your gut, and allow others the permission and space to trust theirs.
2. When it comes to information, less is more
You can throw too much at someone when they are struggling. They are dealing with enough, and you should only tell them as much as they need to know. For example, if someone is struggling with depression, don’t tell them that other people go through worse things.
3. Don’t make them feel powerless
Help them feel empowered in their situation as they are attempting to cope with life. A simple phrase such as “you have to” can make them feel powerless. If you take away their power then they feel as if they are in a rut and can’t get out. Allow them to make their own choices, and let them be heard (even if it’s difficult to do!).
4. Keep your ego to yourself
It’s not about you! If you are there to help someone in their struggle, by no means are you to use this make you feel better about yourself. You need to let that person express him or herself and feel that they are being helped. You are there for them in a time of need—don’t make the situation about you. Interpersonal communications professor at URI, Kristine Cabral, always said “ego and emotions ruin everything.” Don’t talk about how someone’s depression affects you.
5. Let them know that it’s okay to fail, and be there for them if they do
The only way someone can learn is if they fail. Mistakes and flops okay and understandable. It’s a part of life, and it’s a blessing more than a curse. Help them see the good that can come from a situation… but also understand that if the situation is still raw, they may not be ready to hear it.
6. Give advice with humility
Be gentle in your advice. Do not come across as forceful, or as if you know best. Don’t let that ego come out! When you give advice say it as if it were an option, not a definitive. This will ensure that they feel safe and feel in control.
7. Create a space for their feelings
Don’t bring up problems at the dinner table. Everyone needs a safe environment to express themselves and talk about how they feel. Find a place that they feel comfortable to talk. Don’t go somewhere public where other people will hear or give them anxiety. One of the best places to talk is somewhere secluded, like their room.
8. Allow a sense of individuality
People need to have different experiences than you. Everyone can’t always follow your path. Allow them be different than the rest.
9. Present opportunities to connect
You need to be open and vulnerable if you want someone to feel safe enough to open up. Don’t just let them do the talking about their feelings. Open up and let them know how you’re doing, too. We all have concerns… let them know you’re human and it will help them feel more human, as well.
10. Be kind
This can’t be stressed enough. Kindness is the most important part to any relationship. Listen to them with ease. Be yourself. Don’t put them down about life. Treat each human with respect.
When have you felt helpless in the face of a loved one’s struggles? What are your tips for helping others manage the stressors of the holidays?