Women are often each other’s greatest cheerleaders. They deftly walk the tightrope between pushing and comforting as they navigate each other’s pain. No wonder then, that when faced with excruciating grief and trauma, a group of women who all happened to be present during the Las Vegas massacre in 2017, formed a deep friendship while attempting to heal from this horrific event.
Let’s look at some suggestions women can use as they help other women heal in the face of adversity:
1) Name it to tame it. When we label a feeling aloud, we start to diffuse it. We begin to loosen the hold that feeling has on us. The more we attempt to ignore a feeling, the more it grows. As unpleasant as it sounds, we have to encourage each other to walk right into the discomfort, to name our big feelings aloud to each other. This is step one in the process of beginning to heal. Help a friend who is struggling by staring those unspeakably sad feelings in the face with her, rather than brushing them under the rug. This will help them begin to distill.
2) Look for mentors. Identify someone who has already suffered greatly, looked grief in the face, and come out the other side. Get your friend who is struggling in front of this person. If we want to be a good piano player, we search for an excellent pianist to teach us her methods. If we want to learn to rock climb, we find a talented rock climber and learn his strategies. Find someone who has survived deep pain and ask them how they did it, even though everyone’s grief presents differently. It always helps to find someone a few steps ahead of us, who can turn back and offer us a hand, lend us a map out of our grief. If you see your friend struggling, take her and bring her to this mentor.
3) Highlight existing strengths. When you notice your friend who is grieving gracefully manage a particularly difficult moment, applaud her and ask her the magic question: How did you manage to survive that moment? Ask: “What exact coping words did you say to yourself?” Write them down for her on an index card. Send those words to her in a text and an email. Snap a photo of the words on the index cards, print it, and frame it for her. Those words are worth gold because they prove that she can do hard things. She can find the inner strength to overcome uncomfortable, painful moments. Help her set up the scaffolding to build on those words so that they become the default conversation in her head as she heals.
4) Model vulnerability. The more you open up to your grieving friend about your own difficulties, the more you normalize the habit of exposing vulnerabilities. The way through the trauma is right through the yucky middle of it, but we have to normalize this process for each other. Tell stories of your own pain, the ugly truth of your suffering. Being vulnerable in front of each other is the apex of bravery. Watch your trust and bond with this person quadruple if you take that risk. Be brave with what you share so that she can feel safe in doing the same. Each time she shares her painful story, she will feel the grief lift ever so slightly. When it settles in again, it will not be as oppressive. Model this so that she learns this is a safe and worthwhile process. She will share it with others when it is their turn.
5) No babysitting allowed. Teach your friend to speak her truth when and where she chooses to do so. Putting a positive spin on her mood to make others more comfortable will slow the healing process to a standstill. Tell your friend that if she needs to respond with “Actually I’m incredibly sad today” when the manicurist asks her how she’s doing, that’s fine. It is not our job to babysit others’ feelings or moods. The expression of our own pain might impact someone else. We tend to self-appoint the job of caretaker of others’ feelings, when no one actually assigns us that job. Make the assumption that the other person can tolerate your telling the truth. Truth telling is the balm we need to heal.