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When a friend is talking about something they’re struggling with, be it a fleeting situation or a battle with chronic mental or physical illness, let them completely finish talking before you jump in with a response. Your offering overused platitudes like “just have confidence!” or “have faith, it will get better” or “everything happens for a reason” will seem even more inauthentic and unhelpful if you interrupt their story. Also, unless they specifically ask for advice or you know that they want help, offer empathy rather than solutions or general advice. Say things like, “I’m so sorry to hear that. That sounds really challenging” that validate their emotions and don’t indicate to them that you think their battles are easy.
As you give empathy and your listening ear and support, you can offer your help, saying things like, “please know you’ll be in my thoughts. What can I do for you?” If they say there’s nothing you can do, say that they are always welcome to change their mind and let you know of something, whatever it is. If you have limitations in what you can do, say them. For example, I have chronic pain, so I don’t offer help with physical tasks like cleaning up a house or doing loads of laundry. I say something to the effect of, “What non-physical task I can do for you? I care about you a lot.”
Above all, make it obvious that you care about them, they are not a burden to you, and you are there for them. Your love is so appreciated! Also, bonus points for cuteness.
This is a letter that my big sister in my sorority gave to me in a time of struggle, entitled “The ABC’s & 123’s of big wants little to feel at ease.” She made it easy for me to ask for what I need because instead of going through the process of wondering if I’m a burden to her, which words I should use, or anything, she made it so I only had to text her a letter or a number to ask for help in many different ways, such as prayer, food, or help with various physical tasks that are challenging for me.
TL;DR: make your love and care for someone known by following a few guidelines to help you listen better.
here’s to all of us:
- that survived another day with an invisible illness weighing us down.
- that made it through another day in the grips of a mental illness.
- who cried in private and smiled in public.
- who walked through the day on the outside looking in, feeling utterly alone, no matter how many people were near us.
- who made it through another day by the skin of our teeth, white-knuckled, jaw-clenched, certain there was no way we could survive what was in front of us, with only a tiny piece of hope inside our hearts.
to all of us i say:
If you’re battling a mental illness and didn’t want to wake up this morning but did anyways, you’re a motherfucking badass. Because living with a mental illness is hard and I’m damn proud of you for still being here and fighting. You’re metal as hell and tough as nails. So keep on fighting, you kickass Viking warrior. You can win this.
First things first, try to understand their disorder. Take a few minutes to educate yourself, read the wiki page, figure out what it entails and what they’re suffering with. Find out what their individual symptoms are, because it varies from person to person. Avoidant Personality Disorder in short is a lifelong condition in which a person is incredibly shy and always feels inadequate or not good enough, and it’s an ultrasensitivity to criticism and rejection. Things that you say to other people that would probably be just fine may hurt us because of that ultrasensitivity. Things that aren’t meant as rejections and other people wouldn’t see as rejections feel like rejections. We look too much into everything, body language, where you sit, what you say and what you do and often interpret (incorrectly, usually) that you don’t want us around, and boom, rejection.
Some of the common symptoms are as follows:
- Hypersensitivity to rejection/criticism
- Self-imposed social isolation
- Extreme shyness or anxiety in social situations, though the person feels a strong desire for close relationships
- Avoids physical contact because it has been associated with an unpleasant or painful stimulus
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Severe low self-esteem
- Mistrust of others
- Emotional distancing from others
- Highly self-conscious
- Self-critical about their problems relating to others
- Problems in occupational functioning
- Lonely self-perception, although others may find the relationship with them meaningful
- Feeling inferior to others
- In some more extreme cases —agoraphobia
- Utilizes fantasy as a form of escapism and to interrupt painful thoughts
Now, keep in mind not everyone with AvPD has all of these symptoms - for example, I’ve bolded the ones relevant to me. As you can see, it’s a good deal of them, though the severity of every symptom varies from person to person. My case isn’t nearly as bad as many other people - many people can’t ever leave their house to go to the supermarket, I’m not quite that bad.
All of this is official, DSM-approved talk. You also should try to understand what a toll it takes on us, and how awful it makes us feel. We know that we’re strange, or weird, or socially inept. We know that we shouldn’t be like this. We know it’s wrong, and we know that being anxious in most social situations is illogical, and we know that our avoidance is unjustified. We know all that, and it just makes us feel worse. Why can’t we be normal? Why can’t we be like everyone else? Why can’t we just go up to someone and strike a conversation? It takes a heavy toll every day.
Now, onto the main topic of this post, and the main question I’m answering: How to Care for and Help Someone with AvPD.
- Show us that you care. Taking steps to try to understand what the disorder is, and then trying to find out how to help really means a lot in our eyes, a lot more than you could ever know, and if you do that we’ll be eternally grateful.
- Talk to us first. Start conversations with us, because we sure as hell can’t. Personally when someone I care about starts a conversation with me it makes my whole day, and it’s one of the easiest ways to show you care.
- Same with making plans - most of the time, we won’t do it. We may really, really want to see you, and we may be really, really lonely, but we can’t simply text you and say “hey, wanna hang out?” because we feel like that would make us annoying.
- If you have plans with one of us, never, never invite someone else along without talking to us about it first, even if it’s a close mutual friend, or someone you know we like, it’ll cause us heaps and heaps of anxiety. I cannot count the number of times this has been done to me, and the number of anxiety attacks it’s caused and plans I’ve backed out of last minute because of it.
- On the topic of the above, never surprise us with a bunch of people. Surprise parties are a big no-no, and same with inviting us somewhere when we’re under the impression it’s just gonna be you and us and then having it turn out to be a whole bunch of people. This is especially bad if it’s a situation we can’t get out of.
- Don’t bring them into situations you know they won’t be comfortable in without giving them warning first and telling them exactly what it’s gonna be. If you do this (or really any of the above things), it feels like a betrayal of trust, even though we know you didn’t mean it like that - it kinda ties into the whole ultrasensitivity to rejection thing.
- Sometimes we just need a little break, or a little bit of a buffer between us and the situation - many people have many different things, I know I personally when I’m starting to get anxious will step behind whoever I’m with and stand relatively close to them, and that makes me feel like I’ve got a bit of a buffer, and I’m not directly in the eye of the public.
- Understand why sometimes we don’t want to go out in public. Sometimes we don’t want to be around people - no, not don’t want to, can’t be around a bunch of people, or maybe a few particular people. That doesn’t mean we don’t like them, but social interaction is just exhausting sometimes.
- Note one of the above points - extreme shyness in social situations, but a longing for close relationships. If you form a close friendship with us, value it, and know it’s probably one of the most important things to us. Sometimes we’ll form a relationship with someone that’s so close we don’t get anxiety around them anymore and can be around them anytime for however long, and that’s one of the most valuable things in the world to us.
- Know that we don’t express affection very well - we may love you to death but we’ll never say it or show it simply because we don’t know how. We do though, we promise.
- Please, respect our disorder. Don’t push social situations on us. Don’t guilt us into doing things that we aren’t comfortable with, because it really isn’t that hard. And most importantly, please, please don’t try to change us into something we’re not. There’s a difference between trying to help us feel better about ourselves and feel better in social situations, and trying to change us completely. Don’t cross that line.
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