“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.
– Alexander Den Heijer
Why is it that when someone is struggling with self-worth, or addiction, or worry, or anxiety, we immediately assume that the person suffering through those situations needs to change?
When a friend or loved one tells us that they are struggling, our minds are bypassed and we suddenly find ourselves saying the things we think we should say to make them feel better; “Cheer up!”, “try not to worry about it.”, “Think positive!”, but these useless platitudes of empty encouragement show not only a distinct lack of imagination, but a distinct lack of understanding – an understanding of where these issue sometimes sprout come from.
So what can you do to help someone in need?
- Listen to learn all that you can.
- Attack the surrounding weeds, not the flower itself.
- Offer support as they learn to adapt.
A friend of mine recently told me that they were struggling with their self-worth, I knew that in order to make a reasoned argument for change of any kind, I needed to know all of the variables. I made a conscious effort to think long and hard about their situation, and do lots (and I mean lots) of listening before even attempting to offer a tiny crumb of advice.
In order to be understanding, we need to know where the other person is standing.
We can only offer salient, useful, informed opinions when we understand the world in which the issue is occurring – light, exercise, alone time, diet, security, overwhelm, rest, upbringing, societal pressure, finances, all of these things (and more) can be the root cause of the issues our friends, family and loved ones are dealing with.
This is not to say that all mental health issues are always a direct result of external circumstances. But sometimes, we fail to pay attention to the things that are in our control. For example:
The father of two who has lost his fervour and vigour at work might neglecting his usual exercise routine and not getting enough sunlight.
The girl who struggles with self-worth and value at work might be overwhelmed by her high-pressure job. She might be spending too much time on social media, and comparing herself to the images of “perfection” she sees online.
The child at school who gets frustrated quickly might be having a hard time keeping up because of parents overlooking a nutritional diet and sleep schedule.
We see the skin, and we see the eyes and the movements, but the brain is invisible, and the muscles are only seen when we go beyond the surface. I’ll say it again: In order to be understanding, we need to know where the other person is standing. And we can only know this if we ask, and if we listen.
When we talk about flowers, the most obvious comparison for a healthy environment is sunlight, but we should also consider water, encouragement, space, and support.
If we are to help others grow we must remove the weeds and obstructions around them. We have to attack the problem head on, not the individual.
Advice you can give:
“Hey dude, I know you’re struggling with _______, but have you thought about trying more ______? Sometimes when I’m feeling terrible, making a dietary change can help me feel more balanced.” If we are to be at our best, we must nourish our souls and our minds with healthy foods.
“I support you massively, and I am here for whenever you need me. You are doing a great job of _______ and I see you working really hard!” If we are to thrive, we need encouragement and empowerment to do so – a cheer-section is vitally important.
“I know you feel stagnant right now, I wonder if you’re being held back by ________ or your _______, have you thought about letting those things go in order to make space for your own personal growth?” If we are to grow, we need to have space around us into which we can reach, stretch and expand – a greenhouse or plant-pot are only helpful for so long.
“I can see how much you are struggling with _______, please let me _______ to give you a helping hand!” If we are to stand tall and strong, sometimes we need outside help to keep us on the right path; a creeping vine needs wire and a post on which to grow.
When we are trying to help others mould their environments to better serve their personal growth, or the personal growth of others, it is important to be aware of the mind’s propensity for change – adapt and thrive. What a person needs now, may not be what that same person needs one week, one month or ten years, from now. Thus the process begins again…
LISTEN > ATTACK > ADAPT > LISTEN > ATTACK > ADAPT > etc.
Many things are outside of our control, but there are many things inside of our control that we can change. If we are to help others grow and thrive, like flowers, we must open the eyes of our friends to change that needs to happen, and willing to go through the rain with them to make that change happen. The change we need will not always be an internal change, but, more often, will be a change of stimuli or input. Of course, if the issue goes beyond this, we must be there to encourage our loved ones to seek outside help from a mental health care professional.
If our friends are struggling to grow, let’s assess their surroundings, help them make the necessary changes, and then be willing to stand by them as they push through the tough task of adapting to their environment.