September 6, 2018
By Kelly Davis, Director of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services
When life is challenging, many of us naturally turn to the people around us for support. It is often the simple act of sharing your experience with another person that provides serious relief. It helps us feel less alone and like someone else cares. Most of us know this is what we want for ourselves, yet, when people share their struggles with us, we often respond in ways that might discourage them from coming to us in the future.
When faced with someone else’s distress or any topic that makes us uncomfortable, it is common to have two less than helpful reactions. The first is to say or do nothing. Out of fear of saying the wrong thing or uncertainty about how they can help, people often avoid topics or even people. The second is to try to fix the person’s problems. Because it is painful to see someone they care about struggling, people offer solutions so quickly and emphatically that the person who reached out may feel like they themselves are problems. Whether someone is feeling ignored or feeling invalidated, a chance for connection is missed and may instead be replaced with feelings of isolation or being a burden on others.
This is a great example of how the world can learn from what peer supporters have known for a long time. Instead of ignoring or trying to fix someone’s pain, peers hold space for whatever a person may be experiencing. They understand the importance of being seen, and they do not believe the person needs to be “fixed.” Through the presence of someone else and the validation of their experience, people can receive real support and move forward in whatever way they choose.
Sign up for the Center for Peer Support Newsletter.
Return to the Center for Peer Support.