One of the greatest gifts a person can receive and give is “to be heard and to be understood”.
The Ask: “I have a problem…”
In a difficult situation, it is hard to find the words to ask for help. In empowerment self-defense classes, students practice the opening sentence “I have a problem”. To illustrate, we have a student go and find an unsuspecting adult to ask for help. Each time when they say “I have a problem”, the adult stops and listens. I have encouraged junior students who have a cell phone to program an emergency “I have a problem” person’s number into their phone. In a difficult situation, they can call and simply say “I have a problem” and there is a promise at the other end to be heard without harmful judgement or correction.
I have shared this strategy with many younger people I have worked with over the years running a peer mentoring group for teens, with younger people in my life, and with my own children. It has been rare but I have received calls and my heart sinks when I hear “I have a problem”. Everything stops and all resources go to listening and supporting that person. First I assess…is it a 911 emergency? If so, I obtain immediate assistance. If not, I say a “response line” that authentically comes from my heart and prevents me from freezing or panicking.
In your family, you may already have an “ask for help line”. If you do not, please consider the words “I have a problem”. But, remember this opening line comes with a promise of being heard in return, regardless. Sometimes it may be a simple math problem that can wait but other times it may be the four words that help your child ask for help and work through a moment of fear, shock, embarrassment and so on.
The Response: “I am sorry that happened…”
As the receiver it can be hard to know what to say. It is hard to avoid the temptation to find reasoning for another’s pain such as ‘they are too sensitive’, or the temptation to fix, or the temptation to give advice. Instead listen and hear. Listen for what is needed, the answers will come. These situations are difficult and to help me center I have practiced the words “I am sorry that happened…”. Other words such as “What do you need? How can I help?” may be beneficial in time, however, a troubled person may feel overwhelmed by needing to have answers to questions in the initial moments of asking for help. Hearing the words “I am sorry that happened…” without giving advice or judgement may be the relief needed at that moment.
We do not need to have answers. We can empower others by giving the gift of being heard and understood and enabling time and space for answers to come.