Imagine going to the doctor for medication and returning for a follow-up visit. In one case, the doctor says you are reacting to the medicine; in the other case, the doctor says you are responding to the treatment. Zig Ziglar uses this example to show there’s a big difference between responding and reacting.

A reaction is instant. It’s driven by the beliefs and biases of the unconscious mind. It’s when you say or do something “without thinking.” A reaction is based on the moment and doesn’t take into consideration the long term effects of what you do or say. A response, on the other hand, is slower, formed after considering multiple factors. A response will be more encouraging and supportive, helping you show love, and helping those in crisis to feel heard and encouraged.

Most people aren’t sure how to provide comfort or respond appropriately to the emotional whirlwind of crisis. Instead of listening and taking the time to offer a constructive response, they jump to conclusions. They say the first thing that comes to mind, or in other words, they react. Reaction responses can be unhelpful and possibly even detrimental to the person in distress — the most helpful way to respond starts with thinking beyond your initial reaction.

 

Reactions & Responses

Understanding appropriate responses can be challenging. Based on my personal experience and my experience as a chaplain, here are some common reaction pitfalls to avoid and ideas on how to respond.

 

Dismissing or Minimizing 

Imagine experiencing a crisis, and someone comes to you and says, “it could be worse,” or “it’s not even that bad.” Or, they share a story that happened to compare and contrast your experiences. Dismissing or minimizing trauma makes it seem as if it doesn’t matter. It can make someone who needs help feel alone, or guilty for mentioning what they’re going through. 

 

Offering Unsolicited Advice

As humans, we naturally want to fix things. When someone comes to us with a problem, often our first instinct is to solve it. Giving advice when it isn’t requested can be unhelpful, especially if you’re qualified or familiar with the person’s situation. Very often, someone in the middle of a crisis wants to vent and release frustrations. So, if they ask for advice, give the best advice and guidance you can. But if not, don’t assume someone needs it. 

 

Validation 

Instead of dismissing feelings or giving unsolicited advice, validate them! A person going through trauma wants to feel heard, understood, and comforted. You can say things like, “I’m sorry you went through that” or “You’ve been through a lot.” Responses like this mirror feelings and show that you’ve been listening, you care, and you’re acknowledging what they’ve been through. It’s a chance to show that you empathize with their struggles, and you’re there to help them.

 

Reframing

Reframing your friend’s negative lens is another way to respond with love to them thoughtfully. Crisis and trauma can create a negative or hopeless perspective, and you can help them to find the positive and hopeful side. For example, the crisis was a setback or an unexpected event, but it doesn’t define them. You can remind them that God is in the business of building things out of broken people and broken situations. You can also complement them by reinforcing their strengths, skills, and accomplishments. 

 

Having A Sense Of Humor 

Bringing joy and laughter can be a great way to make someone feel better. But it’s essential to assess the needs of who you’re talking to and their communication style. Do they like to laugh things off? Or would they prefer you to be serious? You may be able to tell based on previous conversations, or you can always ask. Everyone has different needs at different times.

 

Instilling Hope

Experiencing trauma can make a person feel hopeless because the person in crisis has lost their normal. Their life has been turned upside down, and their view of the world may be clouded by darkness. But you can help them feel hopeful.

Remind them that there is help, resources, and support out there, from you as a friend, and from licensed professionals. You can also provide consistent support and reassurance, offering to pray for them, speak the truth, and share uplifting words and Scripture. Let them know that you are there for them and will support them every step of the way. 

 

We all experience crises. The key is to be prepared to respond to moments of crisis, consciously. By choosing to respond instead of reacting, we can support those during a crisis, inspire hope, and bring love and light to times of darkness.