Unhelpful Behaviors to Avoid When Supporting Your Loved One
Last updated: December 2022
Supporting a loved one through a chronic condition such as endometriosis can be a wonderful help to that person. Having someone to share in their journey, to share thoughts and feelings with, and to help out when the burden feels too heavy is a great thing.
I write these articles because my partner and I found that when I was also a part of her endometriosis journey, it made the path easier, progress quicker, and challenges less daunting. But as with all things, there are times when offering someone support may be a hindrance rather than a help, and some seemingly supportive behaviors can actually be damaging and stress-inducing.
Minimizing a situation
For example (and I won’t be specific with names or relations), someone very close to me with a chronic condition struggles with the ‘help’ of their family members. This help often comes in minimizing the condition, explaining how they’ve had worse or how it could be worse.
It could come as offering alternative solutions, such as stress and anxiety. Or maybe even doing their research and planning how to help without consulting said person first.
Whether these behaviors are intentional, passive-aggressive attacks or well-intentioned, unwitting mistakes isn’t what’s most important. What’s important is to recognize these behaviors, identify them in yourself, and talk about them with your partner if it’s a concern to you.
First, there is minimizing the issue. Minimizing involves downplaying the severity of a problem, such as endo or its symptoms, to help lessen worry or stress in that person. The problem is that it often makes the one suffering from the problem feel that their experience isn’t valid, that they aren’t heard and understood, or that they are overreacting.
Furthermore, minimizing is often used to reassure the person doing the minimizing, especially when the help they can give is limited, such as in the case of a chronic condition. More effective than minimizing a problem is listening fully, acknowledging it, and coming up with solutions together.
Overhelping can be undermining
Being too helpful can also be an issue. Helping your loved one with chores or doing your own research is great and encouraged, but doing everything for them and insisting they rest and let you do it can be very disempowering.
To disempower someone is to make them feel they are out of control of their situation and that they don’t have the power to act. Again, this can be done unintentionally and with good intentions by the helper to compensate for their inability to ‘cure’ the person.
Instead, talk to your loved one and find out what they would like help with; decide on it together.
Being a martyr
Finally, there are a group of behaviors that I will call ‘being a martyr.’ A martyr is someone who suffers for their belief or convictions; similarly, some people who try to help can end up suffering too.
This can look like not doing the things you love because your partner can’t do them, eating last, washing last, doing all the chores, etc. By putting your loved one first at the expense of your well-being, you are hurting yourself and your partner in the long run.
This can lead to resentment and feelings of guilt in your partner. To avoid this, remember the adage that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’
You must look after yourself, be full, to effectively help others.
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