Do you want to be Helped, Heard, or Hugged?
A simple question that might save your relationships.
Your daughter comes home with a troubled brow and downcast hazel eyes. You ask her how her day at elementary school went. She tells you about mean girl shenanigans and atrocities. Indignation builds, and you find yourself laying out a plan of defense for her, followed by some lines of counterattack. Your daughter looks up at you with confusion. She says But Dad, those girls are my friends. The hairpin turn is vertiginous, and you are left as confused as she is. Perhaps you should have refrained from offering reactionary, guerrilla/gorilla solutions, and instead said something like this:
Sounds like you had a tough day. Do you want to be helped, heard, or hugged right now?
The 3 H’s
I first learned of the 3 H approach this spring while talking with a fellow girl dad. They don’t teach this in medical school. Helped, heard, or hugged. It provides a framework for responding to a loved one in a way that can resonate with the needs of the moment. It should be applied to moments with spouses, friends, and family alike.
I think most of the time we can default to first listening, and then intuitively offering support. But other times, when emotions are really swirling, our own discomfort compels a response that seems best to us. Instead, we might first take a breath, and then figure out what this person really wants back from us. Asking works. Used judiciously this can be transformational.
Do you want to be Helped?
This is the default mode of many parents when their children present with bleary eyed complaints, hard days, and trampled feelings. Spouses, too. We have an innate hero mentality, and I don’t mean that in a self-aggrandizing way. I’ve learned that being a hero can actually be annoying. I should have listened when Tina Turner sang: We don’t need another hero. We don’t need to know the way home.
But when people do want help in response to their grievance, we should approach this with a collaborative mindset. Figuring out solutions to the problem together instead of being prescriptive works best. Imposing our own whipped up method might be ignorant of key variables. The person might already have a plan.
Do you want to be Heard?
Hearing someone, and then letting them know that you have sincerely listened and understood, is a surprisingly powerful social tool. Often it is easier yet better than trying to actively help, especially if that person does not want that from us. Being heard is therapeutic. Just ask anyone who benefits from professional counseling.
The scourge of loneliness, and the associated detriments to our health, might be based upon a sense that we are not being heard anymore.
I am not a psychologist, but I’m guessing that the simple words I hear you, followed by an empathic statement or two of specific validation might suffice to make someone feel a lot better. The person who hears us is truly a loved one.
Do you want to be Hugged?
Of the 3 H’s this one seems to be the most important to ask about first. It can really backfire if the person doesn’t want your hug. Presumptuously gliding in with fully extended arms can be patronizing, belittling, and anti-therapeutic. But when we really need a hug, there is nothing better in the world.
Oxytocin. Warmth. Two fellow humans, with beating and sometimes broken hearts, for a moment escaping the often mean world. A good enveloping embrace can say the unspeakable, slay the undefeatable, and fortify us against adversity as no other gesture can. We’ve known this from our first breaths, and perhaps before that.
Do you want me to get Hostile on your behalf?
There was no 4th H in my conversation with the other dad, but I want to add this one as a very rarely played card. An ace of clubs if you will. Growing up skinny and going to different public schools I had my share of bullies to contend with. There were a few times coming home that I didn’t benefit from just being helped, heard, or hugged. The situation called for hostility in return. I know that’s not very appropriate in the 21st century of enlightened parenting.
But by way of example, if Volodymyr Zelenskyy shows up and tells you a story of authoritarianism versus democracy, the killing of innocents, the invasion of a peaceful homeland, and the outrage of genocide… perhaps tanks and a full throated defense of liberty are in order.
It all starts on the playground, doesn’t it?
Your daughter comes home with a troubled brow and downcast hazel eyes. You ask her how her day at elementary school went. She tells you about mean girl shenanigans and atrocities. Indignation builds, but instead of launching into a litany of actions for her to take, you shut up and listen. You hear her, and ask what she wants.
How about just hearing me today, Dad.
And maybe a hug, too?