What NOT to do when offering support
Offering support is a kind and natural thing to do for a friend or family member who has experienced birth trauma or perinatal mental health challenges. Thank you for being willing to walk this bumpy road together. It really does take a village to support a new parent through everything the changes they are navigating.
However, sometimes we haven’t had to walk with someone through this type of experience before. And in fact, we’re not actually very good at it. Sometimes even the well-meaning comments we provide do not provide as much support as we had hoped.
As part of my work in strengthening parents through their journey I want to equip those around you with tools to help them in supporting you. So keep reading, then forward this to those within your circle that may need it.
So here are 6 traps to avoid when providing support to a loved one:
❌ Don’t minimise their experience. It is their experience, not yours. Telling someone to “look on the bright side” or “at least you have …” isn’t helpful (honestly, never start a sentence with “at least…”). In fact it’s what we call ‘toxic positivity’. It’s dismissive, minimising and invalidating, and can cause more harm than good. Instead, listen. Just listen.
❌ Don’t offer unsolicited advice. You may think you are being helpful, but it can be overwhelming or can work to invalidate their experience by offering cheap advice (e.g. “You just need to xyz and your problem will be solved”). Offering advice often serves the person giving it more than the person receiving it. Sitting in the discomfort of someone’s pain is hard, so we tend to want to do something proactive that helps us to alleviate OUR discomfort.
❌ Don’t make it about you. Yes you may have had a similar experience, or know someone who has, but this isn’t about you. Two people can have very different experiences of the same event. Your experience is not the same. You are different people, with different influencing factors, so making it about you won’t always be helpful.
❌ Don’t try to fix it. Most of the time you can’t anyway. You can provide information to a source of support or help, but listening and validation is often more valuable. Fixing it for someone takes away their control and autonomy. Support them to do it instead.
❌ Don’t avoid what’s happening. Avoiding the elephant in the room isn’t helpful… in fact it can again be dismissive and invalidating. Follow the person’s lead in regard to sitting with their current emotions surrounding what is happening, but don’t avoid it. Ask if you’re not sure.
❌ Don’t forget who it’s happening to. If you know that a loved one is going through a tough time, check in. Even if they appear to be on the other side of it now. Even if you’re busy or have your hands full, a check in with a simple message can show someone that people do care and they’re not alone.
Supporting others isn’t alwasy easy as it challenges us to sit in discomfort. So save this article, send it to those around you who need some gentle tips, and keep it in mind for when someone you love needs your support.
My name is Fiona Rogerson and I am an ACA accredited trauma and perinatal Perth counsellor and Hypnobirthing (Mongan Method) Educator. I work with women and men to overcome emotional and psychological hurdles surrounding traumatic experiences, as well as conception, pregnancy, postpartum, parenting and identity. I am also available to provide professional development training and workshops to various organisations. I am based south of the river in Perth. To work with me, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0402 017 425 or message via my contact page.