Sometimes Being There Is Enough
Among the things that people are never trained for is how to be a bystander. Whether we are a bystander at the scene of an accident or we are supporting a friend or relative who is dealing with an injury or illness or death of a loved one or we are navigating the process of how to remain friends with both members of a couple who are going through a divorce, there is a common denominator. We are bystanders.
It is difficult to know how to react to situations such as these where our roles may not be clearly defined. We often want to help, in fact some people – including me – have made a career out of helping others. And yet there are situations where we don’t know how to help – or whether our help is wanted or even appropriate.
My suggestion, unless emergency first aid is clearly required, is to ask the person you are supporting whether there is anything that you can do. Some people don’t know how to ask for help, and some people don’t want the help at the moment – although they may later change their mind. Once you’ve made it known that you are available and supportive, just being there may be enough. Even as a professional psychologist, I can think of a number of cases over the years where the best thing that I could do for a patient was to sit with the person while s/he was dealing with an internal struggle that could only be solved by them. In some of those cases, knowing that a caring adult was on their side was enough to help them utilize their internal resources to find a solution. In other cases, sitting with them allowed time to figure out how to ask for help.
If we find ourselves in the undefined role of bystander, and it’s not a life or death emergency, let the other person decide what kind of support s/he needs for a problem that is theirs to solve – and sometimes just being there for them, and making them aware of the fact that we are there, is the appropriate role for us to play.