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How To Really Care For A Grieving Person

How To Really Care For A Grieving Person

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” – Saint Augustine

I lost both my parents within 3 days of each other and when they died my world came crashing down. I was in shock and so much pain that I could hardly breathe. I continued to feel the pain and grief for many months.

When caring for and supporting someone who is grieving, it is easy to feel helpless. There is no way we can take away the pain and the intensity of their grief and that can be overwhelming for us. I know that many people wanted to help me ease the pain of my grief and only now do I understand that supporting someone who have experienced loss can be difficult.

While there is no perfect way to care for and support someone who is grieving, these 6 guidelines will help you to care for a friend or partner in their time of need.

1. Prepare Yourself To Experience The Physical Pain Of The Persons Grief

Be open to experiencing and feeling that person’s grief. You will have emotions that will arise within you and they should not be held back. If you feel you need to cry, then cry. If the person goes to hug you and holds on to you sobbing don’t pull away, respond and hug them back for as long as it takes for them to release the hug.

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Always be genuine about how you feel and if you don’t know what to say acknowledge it by saying ” I am sorry this has happened to you. I am not sure what to say, but what I want you to know is that I care about you and I am here for you”.

2. Understand The Grieving Process

Experiencing the tragic loss of my parents I learnt that there was a lot more to grief than I had ever known. I did not know that there was a difference between grief and mourning. Grief are the internal thoughts and feelings we experience when someone we love dies. Mourning is taking the internal experience of grief and expressing it outside of ourselves.

Instead of being encouraged to express grief externally, we are told to;  “keep your chin up”, “take it day by day'”, “keep yourself busy” or “tomorrow is another day”. Many people as a result feel uncomfortable and so grieve in isolation which is not helpful for the healing process.

If you have not experienced grief and loss you can still support and care for a grieving friend or partner. Spend some time reading and learning about the grieving process. This information will give you a better insight as to how you can help and what help you can offer to a person as they mourn for the loss of their loved one

There is no right or wrong way to grieve however the better you understand grief and how it is healed the better you will know how to help.

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3.  Avoid These Statements

I know that people have good intentions and truly cared for me. They wanted to help me when I was grieving however some people did make some totally useless statements in their effort to show their support. These statements only intensified the pain of  my grief and made me feel even more isolated. I felt that it was me who was in the wrong and that I was grieving too much! So be aware of the statements you make in your effort to help someone who is grieving.

Here are few statements you should avoid at all costs:

  1. She or he is in a better place.
  2. You must be strong.
  3. He or she are at peace or they lived a good life.
  4. God must have wanted her or him because she or he was such a good person.
  5. Everything happens for a reason, life must go on.
  6. I know exactly how you feel.
  7. I guess it was his or her time to go.
  8. Its part of God’s plan.
  9. Look at what you have to be thankful for.
  10. This is behind you now – its time to get on with your life.

4. Listen with Compassion

Many people who grieve do not give themselves permission to mourn or receive permission from others to mourn. People tend to view grief as something that needs to be overcome rather than be experienced.

When grief is suppressed and internalised it creates confusion and internal anxiety within a person. Encourage and support your friend or partner to move toward their grief, rather than away from it and to mourn for the person they have lost.

Do not avoid talking about death or mentioning the deceased person. People who are grieving need to feel that their loss is acknowledged and that the person is not forgotten. Check in with your friend or partner to see if they are okay to talk about their loss by asking them, “Do you feel like talking?”

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Accept and acknowledge their feelings and that it is okay for them to get angry, cry or sit in silence. When you care and support a person who is grieving, be willing and comfortable to sit in silence.  Having someone who cares and loves them by their side is a key part of the healing process.

5. Offer Practical Support

It is difficult for a grieving person to ask for help. There are many reasons for this, such as having no energy or motivation to ask for help. For me it was because I felt guilty asking for help. I thought that I would be a burden as my friends led such busy lives that they had no time to spare.

If you want to help and support a friend or your partner who is grieving take the initiative and make specific suggestions. For example you could say “I am going to the market this morning. What can I get you?”; “Lets go for a coffee and walk. I will pick you up at…”; “I have made a casserole for your dinner and will drop it off this afternoon”.

6. Provide Ongoing Support

Grief continues for the person long after the funeral. Once my parents funerals were over and everybody had gone home that was when it hit me. Life was back to normal. Children back to school and me back to work. In one week my life had traumatically changed and yet life kept on going. It is at this point when the support and care of friends and family was most important.

If you want to support and care for your friend or partner, be prepared to be there for the long haul. Do not make assumptions about how your friend or partner appears to be on the outside. Avoid saying “you look well” or “you are doing great”. Inside they will be still feeling the pain so ask them “do you feel like talking?” or “what can I do for you?”.

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Take the initiative and be aware that this person’s life will never be the same. You never get over grief, instead you become reconciled to it. Over time you learn to move forward with your life without the physical presence of the person who has died.

With your ongoing support and care, your friend or partner will slowly start to feel more energy to moving forward in their life. They will start talking more positively about life and one day they will acknowledge to you that although their grief was a difficult and painful time, they understand that it is a necessary part of living.

That is when you know you have done an amazing job caring for and supporting someone you love who is grieving. They are now moving forward with their life.

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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