‘Let me know if you need anything’ – a well-meaning, often used phrase which we’ve all used at one time or another to provide support to those around us. If someone is ill, upset or down we want them to know we are there and that we can provide things to help. But the issue with this phrase is that it supposes the person knows what they need to make them better and further, that they would feel comfortable in coming right out in asking for it. Personally I can think of maybe one or two times when I’ve known what I’ve needed to feel better and then asked for it… In fact I’d go so far as to say that the times when I’ve needed someone the most, have been the times when I’ve been unable to articulate why or what I need.
So why do we use this phrase so much when it sort of implies that if you don’t tell me what you need, I won’t help? Has it perhaps become a lazy way to show support without the commitment of actually doing anything about it – an absolution of the guilt of inaction because ‘they didn’t let me know what was needed’? Or are we truly unsure of the best way to help some people and therefore must ask them for guidance on what to do? Perhaps we think we’re helping by getting the person to outline what is wrong and therefore what they need to change – a sort of soft coaching approach? Whatever the reason, I would hazard a guess that if you think back to the times you’ve said this to someone, they’ve often politely replied with a ‘thanks’ but not advised of you of what to do to help.
Sometimes someone just needs a hug…without first having to admit a hug is what they need. It takes a great friend indeed to pick up on that and do something appropriate and tangible rather than asking you to spell out what you need…
But I’ll be the first to admit that I too have been guilty of using this phrase – until recently I thought it was a really good way to offer support. But being entirely honest (as I always am in these blogs!) I’ve recently being going through some hard times – I’m a classic case of the clown, mostly smiling and bouncy on the outside while on the inside really struggling to feel good about life. I’d much rather talk about other peoples’ problems than my own – mostly because I care and want to be of help and support but it can also act as a subtle deflection technique as I find it hard to articulate personal challenges when not in paper form. The way this has manifested for me now is physically in the form of migraines – it cannot be a coincidence that having previously never had them, I’ve had a year of getting pretty regular attacks. My friends and family are wonderful, they’ve all texted / emailed in one form or another and have all said to ‘let them know if I need anything’ – but I truly don’t know what I need. It might be for someone to turn up on my doorstep and take me out for a walk and talk somewhere far away or it might be to drag me out to listen to some upbeat music for a bit. But I would never be the one to directly ask someone to do that and I can’t honestly say it would work either.
I remember back to a time when a really close friend of mine split with her long-term boyfriend and was absolutely gutted. Myself and another friend wouldn’t take no for an answer and told her we were coming over to eat chocolate, drink wine and watch gory vampire movies – we didn’t ask her what was needed but intuitively tried to guess what would help. And if that approach hadn’t worked, I’d have made my way through a great long list of things until I found out what did.
Now I know life isn’t always simple like that – I guess I’m ‘lucky’ (hmm) that I’m free and single so I can jump in a car at my will and be there when needed. The point here isn’t about grand gestures but I think it has to be something more than a ‘tell me what you need’. In a society where mental health issues are on the rise and suicide rates are higher than they should be, I’m absolutely convinced that although a text to say ‘you’re thinking of someone’ or ‘you’re there if they need’ is a good first step, there needs to be more action behind the well meaning. Clearly it will depend very much upon the person, for example, if someone is more of an introvert and hates being surprised then you wouldn’t turn up on their doorstep in the middle of the night (you’ll give the poor blighter a shock and a half! 🙂 ) but let’s get creative and stop putting the pressure on people to outline exactly what they need.
In a world where social media, mobile phones and other technology makes it easy to be in touch but not fully connected, how can we give support to people going through rough times in a more meaningful way…Here are just a few of my ideas:
1. If you live nearby, pop over to their house and see if you can have a cuppa or go out for an hour. Seeing someone in person can make the world of difference and really, an hour out of your day vs. the five minutes it takes to send an email or text can be time well invested. Catching someone when they’re feeling whatever it is they’re feeling is important, because the next day / time you meet it may have passed or been down played. If they’re not in / not answering drop a nice note through the door with some times when you might be in for them to visit back.
2. Organise something to distract / relax them – a film, a walk, a gig or something else. Sometimes in order to talk about something, you need to stop thinking about it too much so it then flows out naturally. If you’re a good friend to someone, you know the things they love so pick something nice to do and take it from there.
3. Make an expression / vision board. Some people are really rubbish at expressing themselves and need a stimulus to get them talking…how about cooking a meal and then spend some time rooting through old magazines and cutting out pictures that jump out. Ask them to talk about why the pictures they have chosen hold meaning for them…often this leads into topics that have been on their mind / are important to them.
4. Don’t ask if they’re okay / need anything…because 9/10 most people won’t admit to being down or needing help. If you need to ask the question, then chances are you’ve intuitively picked up on something that suggests all is not right. Why not gently acknowledge that with them and come up with some ideas for spending time together so you can get to the bottom of it?
I suppose the bottom line is to ask yourself when you’re tempted to use that well-meaning term ‘let me know if you need anything’ – will this person actually tell me what they need? And if the answer is ‘no’, how can you make the first move by doing something tangible right here, right now? There is absolutely no doubt that if you’ve used that term (or another similar one!) with someone then you are a lovely, caring and thoughtful person… but there’s also the risk that someone who needs your help desperately just isn’t brave enough to ask for what they want.
So to wrap this post up, I’ll finish (as ever!) with a quote I found on Pinterest which I thought sums things up pretty well:
“When a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him / her by asking if there is anything you can do. Think of something appropriate and do it.”