“Let me know what I can do to support” may not be very supportive after all

“Let me know what I can do to support” may not be very supportive after all

By now you might have heard this phrase, especially if you’ve fallen on tough times and have good friends with good intentions surrounding you. I’ve said it myself too but after being on the receiving end, I have found myself thinking through what it really means. It feels good, yet offers no real support. It says “I am here for you” but doesn’t specify the ways. The phrase ends up not being as supportive as intended.

When a friend or loved one is in pain or distress, it can be very difficult for them to identify what they need or want, let alone process the situation. It puts added pressure on them to figure out what it is they need. And can sometimes make them feel guilty for not being able to accept such a nice gesture. Sometimes they don’t even know what they need until it is offered.

I like how the form of the message has evolved from “do you need any help?” to “let me know if I can help” — but we can extend that even further and reach closer to our loved ones. Let’s add on to that common phrase by following up with concrete offers that you are actually capable of doing. When you say “let me know what I can do to support”, list what you are willing to do and let your loved one pick and choose on their own time.

Maybe they need help navigating a complex healthcare system but you have zero knowledge or experience with how that even works. Can you then really offer support in that way? Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “I might be able to point you in the direction of some healthcare resources”. Or sometimes they can’t pinpoint what they need but you can still offer something specific by saying “I can bring you home cooked meals on these days”. Or you can even say “my schedule is open at these certain times”, even if it’s just to chat.

Whatever it is that you can realistically offer, say it.

At that point, I promise you that your loved one will feel grateful and appreciate anything you can offer, without feeling like they must be a dummy for not knowing what they need. It says “I am here for you — in these specific ways and more”. It opens up the door for support, without overwhelming them to get their shit together. As always, it’s very difficult to ask for help, let alone specific help, especially when you’re going through it.

I’ve personally heard this phrase a lot these past three years when I began taking care of my partner’s 95-year-old grandmother after she was involved in a car accident. In addition, her dementia rapidly progressed and I found myself dealing with an entirely new situation with no experience to help me navigate one of the most challenging responsibilities I’ve faced in my life thus far, even to this day.

I love and appreciate everyone that has ever said this phrase to me. I also felt very lost and stupid when I didn’t know what I even needed help with. And I still feel like an asshole for not knowing how to take on the general offer of support, as if I am rejecting the idea or person. I am grateful that I even have all these great, caring people around me to even hear it. I love and appreciate the gesture and intention. I also want us to be mindful of the impact this phrase might have when we say it. This is not a complete solution or answer because each situation is complex, unique, and nuanced. I’m just trying to be helpful to those who are trying to be helpful.

Feel free to add on and share the ways you’ve felt concretely supported or how you intentionally offer your support to those who may need it.

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