What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Something unpleasant, unfortunate or horrific happens - an accident, a dire diagnosis, job loss or even a death of a friend or family member.

You feel awful, but rather than express it, you say and do nothing. One reason for your silence may be that you feel uncomfortable and just don't know what to say. Perhaps the situation has stressed you so much that it has caused cortical inhibition, freezing up your ability to adequately express how you feel.

How do you get around this? Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

  • A simple "I'm sorry," or "I'm sorry for your loss/pain/or whatever words fit."
  • A hug.
  • A touch on the arm.
  • A card.
  • Ask some leading questions and be prepared to just listen. The person may need to talk, cry, scream.
  • Offer to do something practical - pick up some groceries, vacuum, share a meal.
  • Balance your nervous system - start from a position of compassion.
  • "Flashlight" the situation. When you turn on a flashlight, you typically look at where you focus the beam of light, not at your hand holding the flashlight. Put the focus on the other person, not on how awkward you may feel. This shift alone will do wonders - for both of you!

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