Question: How to help a grieving person who is lashing out at you?
Different people deal with grief differently, in fact many struggles through it. Lashing out on friends and family is a very common and one of the hardest things to deal with. This is especially true for those who really want to be there to help and support the person who is grieving.
And the funny thing is, many times, we tend to lash out on those we love most and are the one that we are close to.
The best thing you can do is to recognize that “the lashing out” is not about you. You just happened to be there with your grieving friend. You inevitably became a target or an outlet for your friend to “make her pain go away”.
The more objective you stay about the fact that your friend is just hurting and is angry at the world and not you, the easier it would be to tame down your own sensitivity and reactivity. This will be necessary to keep things from escalating out of hand, which does no one any good.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to take any amount of abuse or anger that is spewed at you. You can, and you should set limits.
If it ever gets to the point where it becomes unbearable, there is nothing wrong with removing yourself from the situation. You should excuse yourself politely by tell your friend that you need to go, or have some errands to run. Alternatively, you could also be straight up honest and tell her that you’re not comfortable – you can be honest!
How To Help A Grieving Person Who Is Lashing Out At You?
When the friend you care about is grieving after a loss, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. They tend to struggle with intense emotions, which include depression, anger and guilt.
You may also be afraid to intrude, say the wrong things, or make her feel worse during this difficult time. Or maybe, your friend is already kicking up a fuss and lashing out on you for being by her side all the time.
Continue to be present and eventually, your support and caring presence will help your friend cope with the pain and healing will gradually begin.
Here is how you can help your grieving friend who has been lashing out at you:
- Understanding the grieving process
- Respecting her decisions
- Give her ample time
- Learn what to say to your grieving friend
- Offer any help or service
- Continue to provide ongoing support
- Watch out for warning signs of depression
Understand The Grieving Process
The better you understand grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you’ll be to help your grieving friend.
Grieve does not unfold in an orderly fashion and many times, it is unpredictable. It is usually an emotional rollercoaster with unpredictable highs and lows.
A person who is grieving may yell to the heavens, obsessed about death, lash out at you or cry for hours on end. However, what they really need is just reassurance that what they feel is normal. Don’t judge them or take their grief reactions personally.
For most people, recovery after a loss can take up to 24 months. Grief has no expiration date, so make sure you don’t pressure your friend to move on or make them feel like they’ve been grieving for too long.
You’ll typically see someone grieving going through these five stages of grief:
- Denial: At the beginning, your friend may pretend as if the loss has never happened.
- Anger: When realization hits her, she start to feel angry at the doctors for not trying hard enough to save her loved one, angry at herself for not taking good care of her loved one, etc.
- Negotiation: She starts to negotiate with God, that if God allowed her loved one to live another year, she’ll promise to do good for society, etc.
- Depression: Once she realizes her loved one is never coming back to life, she slips into depression and starts to withdraw away from life.
- Acceptance: During the last stage of grief, she accepts her loss and begins to heal.
Respect Her Decision
It is important to follow the wished of your grieving friend. You may think they need company, but if they don’t want company, respect her decision and leave. Instead, you can try calling her to check on her instead. If she is willing to communicate, she will pick up the call. If she ignores your call, back off a little.
Grief is something very personal and there are a thousand and one ways in which a person can choose to handle it. Sometimes the best help you can give, especially when your friend is in the lashing out phase is to step back.
Drop a simple text to let them know that you care about them, and that you’re always here if they need you, and then step back.
Give Her Ample Time
Your friend may feel like others around her are expecting her to recover quickly or “get over” the loss of her loved one. This may result in her lashing out because she doesn’t know how to deal with these unrealistic expectations of recovery.
Let her know that grieving is a personal process and it shouldn’t be bounded by timelines.
Once she doesn’t feel pressured to move on, she will relax and be able to feel the entire grieving experience and deal with her sadness.
Learn What to Say to Your Grieving friend
Many of us worry about what to say to a grieving person, but it is actually more important to listen. We tend to over think and often change the subject when the deceased loved one is mentioned. Eventually, we may end up avoiding our grieving friend altogether.
However, it is important for your grieving friend to feel as if her loss has been acknowledged. They may want to cry on your shoulder today, but may vent it out on you on the next – these extreme reactions can be challenging to deal with. But sitting there in silence and listening to her talk and share her memories are all that she needs.
Be present and listen compassionately. Simply being there and listening to her can be a therapeutic and healing.
Asking The Right Questions
You should never try to open someone up. It is important to let your grieving friend know that you’re there to listen if they want to talk about their loss. When it seems appropriate, try asking sensitive questions without being too noisy.
- Acknowledge the situation: “I heard that your dad died”
- Express your concern: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you”
- Let your grieving friend talk about their loved one who passed away: Be patient with them. Allow them to repeat their story because repeating is a way of processing and accepting death. Listen compassionately and allow her to heal.
- Ask your grieving friend how is she feeling: Emotions during grief can change rapidly so don’t assume you know how your grieving friend feels at any given time. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience if you think it would help.
- It is okay to cry: Let your grieving friend know that it is okay to cry in front of you, get angry or even breakdown. Never try to reason with them over how they should or should not feel.
- Be real and genuine: Don’t try to make their loss look small or provide simplistic solutions. If you’re unsure of what to say or how to reaction, it is better to just admit “I’m not sure of what to say and I want you to know that I care.”
- Sit in silence: If your grieving friend doesn’t want to talk, don’t pressure her. More often than not, comfort for them comes from simply being in your company. If you can’t think of anything to say, just lightly squeeze their hand or give them a reassuring hug.
What Not to say To Your Grieving Friend?
- It’s all part of God’s master plan.
- Instead of crying over your loved one’s death, look at what you have to be thankful for.
- He is in a much better place now.
- This is behind you now and it’s time for your to get on with your life.
Offer Help or Service
It is often difficult for a person grieving to ask for help. He or she may feel guilty about receiving so much attention and fear being a burden to others. Or they may feel too depressed to reach out for help.
Instead of saying the usual “let me know if you need anything”, try suggesting “I’ll be making some chicken stew for dinner, when can I come by to bring you some?”
If you’re able to consistently offer your grieving friend assistance, she’ll know that you’re genuinely concerned and will look forward for your care and help.
Here are some other ways you can help your grieving friend through an “act of service”:
- Help her with her groceries run
- Drop off a casserole or any other type of food.
- Assist with funeral arrangements especially when she is currently the only one handling it.
- Help her with the housework, eg. cleaning or laundry.
- Drive your grieving friend around to wherever she needs to go.
- Look after your grieving friend’s pet.
- Attend grief support group meeting with her.
- Accompany her for long walks to take her mind of things.
- Take her out to lunch or a movie.
Continue to Provide Ongoing Support
According to grief therapists, a grieving person may take more than 24 months to heal even after the funeral of their loved one is over. The length of the grieving process varies from person to person, but it is often much longer than what most people expect. You bereaved friend will need your continued support.
- Do stay in touch with your grieving friend and check in on her on a periodic basis. Once the funeral is over, the initial shock of the loss will be worn off and your support will become more important than ever.
- Never assume that your bereaved friend has recovered. She may look fine on the outside, but on the inside, she could be suffering. Avoid saying “you are so strong” or “you look well”, as this will add pressure on your friend to keep up with appearance to hide her true feelings.
The pain from losing a loved one will never go away. A person may learn to accept the loss and the pain lessens in intensity over time, but the sadness will never complete go away.
During certain times of the year, it may be particularly hard for your grieving friend – especially during holiday seasons, birthdays, anniversaries. Be sensitive to these occasions and let your grieving friend know that you’re always here for whatever they need.
Watching Out for Warning Signs of Depression
It is very common for a grieving person to feel depressed, confused and disconnected from others. If your grieving friend’s symptoms don’t fade over time, they may start to get worse. It is important to watch out for these early signs to prevent more serious problems such as clinical depression.
Encourage your grieving friend to seek professional help from a grief therapist if you observe these early warning signs.
- Your grieving friend finds it difficulty functioning or carrying on with life.
- Extremely focused on the death to end her pain and sorrows.
- Excessive bitterness, anger, or guilt towards anyone or even herself.
- She starts to neglect personal hygiene on a whole new level.
- She starts alcohol or drug abuse.
- She starts hallucinating about life and how she wants to end it.
- Withdrawal from society or the company of others.
- She is constantly feelings hopeless.