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Speaking to Those in Pain

For the last several months I’ve been battling severe depression, my thinking frequently distorted and self-focused. I’m fortunate to have people who care about me and want to speak into my life to help. They love me and want to “cheer me up”. Their hearts are in the right place but their words fall on deaf ears. They use logic against distorted thinking which simply can’t penetrate. They are overwhelmed or intimidated by the pain so they say things like, “I love you, let me know what I can do to help,” and leave it at that. This is a lovely sentiment but completely useless. When I’m in the dark, I can’t see where the light is. I need you to turn on the switch. Fortunately, I had someone tonight who found the switch for me.

“Why do you believe that?” That was the best sentence I could have ever heard. There was no denial of my feelings. No telling me that what I believed was wrong. Simply a question to make me look at my beliefs in the light, to examine them and see where the faulty thinking was. When lost in a distorted world, examining the “why” can be very helpful.

She affirmed my strengths by listing them concretely. She didn’t say, “you’re a great person, you shouldn’t feel that way.” Instead, she said, “you’re a great person because . . .” Not that I suddenly took my depression and traded it for arrogance but I could look at her examples and say, “Ok, yeah, I do that.” I may not think I’m great but it makes me think maybe I’m not horrible.

She didn’t deny my feelings. She admitted she didn’t/couldn’t understand my pain and didn’t try to pretend she did. Yet, she shared examples in her own life that I could identify with without minimizing my feelings or comparing my feelings. She just let me know that there were others who knew pain as well.

She didn’t pretend to have the answers. She didn’t pretend to know how to “fix” me. She was just a friend when I felt like I had none.

She affirmed I wasn’t alone by repeating, “I’m here for you.” This statement alone has limited value but when you feel isolated and/or are isolating yourself, it is important to know you aren’t alone. When the statement, “I’m here for you,” is combined with the above examples, it becomes powerful.

This post is not meant to be a complete list of ways to talk to someone in depression, nor is it meant to minimize the efforts of those who do not use these examples. These statements helped me. I’m not magically cured now but I at least, for this moment, don’t feel alone. The light bulb is burning out even as I type but I don’t feel the desperation I felt before. If you have someone in your life who is hurting, these ideas may help to break through the pain they’re feeling. It’s worth a try.

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