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Sitting With Our Distress

By Sarah

It was all so simple when our loved ones were young. If they fell and scraped their knee, we knew a bit of ‘special cream’, a band aid, and a hug would make it all better. We knew that no matter how loud the screams, they were okay. We didn’t panic. We just held them and soothed them until the moment passed.

Then they grew. Their pain changed from a physical to a mental pain. We don’t understand it or know how to fix it. We try to find the words. You know the ones, the ones that make all the darkness disappear. The words that make them have that moment when they realise that everything will be fine if they just listen to our advice. Only this time it doesn’t work. We can’t make it better. We can’t heal them. We feel frustrated and perhaps angry that we can’t when to us it all seems so simple. So it’s logical that as the frustration grows, we try harder. We search for better words, and it seems the more we do, the worse it gets. It’s an overwhelming and disheartening place to be. Often their distress and pain transfers to us. It weighs heavy on us. Perhaps we begin to succumb to the darkness. Our compassion and patience begin to wane. As we do this the cycle of misery just keeps feeding itself in an endless loop.

So what do we do? Sometimes we need to sit with the distress. We need to remind our loved ones that it’s okay to have these feelings. We may not understand them but we will walk beside them. We verbalise them. ‘I know you are feeling so upset because…….’ We are not afraid of their distress. We sit with their distress and acknowledge it. We remind them that they are loved without judgement and unconditionally. We reassure them that they are not alone.

Only after taking these steps should we try to remind them that this isn’t forever. That whilst it feels like it will never end, it will. They may not feel strong right now, but we are; and together we will work to find a path to a happier life.

As we move through the recovery journey, it’s important to keep distress in perspective. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.’ The tears, anger and distress that our loved ones feel are, unfortunately, an inevitable part of the recovery process. As carers, it’s important that we accept that and manage its impact on us. It’s important to remember we’ve been here before. Remember those childhood tantrums? We can draw from that parallel. Breathe. Stay calm. Know that we’ve got this and set firm boundaries. With time, patience and love it will pay off. But until then we have to sit with the distress.


  1. Lucy

    It is hard when they say they have no motivation. When they say I am doing it for you.
    Or it has been years.

    When every time there is a step forward there are 2 steps back.

    The sadness just continues.

  2. Jasmine

    The guilt I feel doesn’t go away, when I realise I missed all the telltale signs and didn’t connect the dots. Trying to tell myself that I couldn’t have ever known, because the child didn’t want to share or tell me what was going on. The darkness of this journey continues…

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