The American Psychological Association Help Center states that “caring and supportive relationships are the most significant factor” in resilience. These relationships are further described as those that “create love and trust, provide role models, and offer people encouragement and reassurance.”
Our relationships are key. That’s no surprise to hear, but it’s a lot more challenging to be supportive than to define it. As family and friends, we struggle with being available and helpful, especially when it comes to a loved one’s battle with cancer. Most of us go to the point of being too helpful – wanting to offer solutions, hoping, thinking, wishing we could change things, make it better or, better yet, make it go away.
Not admitting our feelings of powerlessness sometimes leads to unintentional expressions of pity or blame for the illness or treatment symptoms. It’s important to look at our own feelings and talk them out, as appropriate, with our loved one or another trusted friend, counselor or clergy member. Then when we speak, we can express love and care more clearly.
So what else can we do? It seems that what works best is to just be there. That can means sitting through a doctor’s appointment, chemo or hospitalization, or perhaps offering assistance with child care, meals or other tangible help. But it really means to just be there.
Be yourself, be present, and listen without offering advice or thinking some response is necessary.
We need both subjective and objective relationships, those with bias and those without. I want my spouse, sister and friends to have opinions and share them honestly with me; and then, of course, I want respect for my treatment choices.
A quote from Henri J.M. Nouwen, from The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey describes a friend who cares this way “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
However, sometimes we need someone who is outside that closest circle. Chaplains of all faiths are experts – highly trained in the ministry of “presence” – and there are a number of great psychologists on the Baptist Health medical staff who are always there to help.
What is supportive for you? I am interested in hearing from you.
Kathryn Bishopric is a registered nurse, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and board-certified Diplomate in clinical social work, with certifications in addiction, group therapy and spiritual direction. She has worked in a variety of professional roles and settings, including intensive and coronary care as a nurse, and in community, psychiatric and medical settings as a social worker. At Baptist Health South Florida she is director of Care and Counseling Services in the Pastoral Care Services department, and also works with the Samaritan Counseling Center, which offers faith-integrated counseling on a fee-for-service basis to the community.
Part II of a two-part series on emotional strength, resilience and support. To read Part I, click here.
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