Offering Effective Emotional and Cognitive Support After a DUI Arrest
Statistically speaking, we will all know a number of people in our lifetimes who will face a DUI or DWI arrest or accident. No one wants to be the person stopped at a DUI checkpoint, asked to do a sobriety test, take a DUI breathalyzer, or receive a first-time DUI in California. While everyone knows the saying “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” not everyone has someone around to stop them from doing so, and the lowered inhibitions produced by alcohol or marijuana can lead to buzzed driving. “Among convicted DUI offenders arrested in 2018, 72.5% were first offenders, according to the 2021 California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) Annual Report of the California DUI Management Information System. The quest for the best Orange County DUI attorney is only part of the struggle after an OC DUI arrest. After the initial question of “I just got a DUI, what do I do?” is answered and an experienced DUI lawyer has been hired, DUI arrestees still have an abundance of other legal, practical, and financial issues left to tackle.
Studies have shown that the stress of an arrest, particularly for first-time offenders, is uniquely and powerfully disruptive to individuals’ well-being. Some people fall into depression after a DUI arrest or conviction in California. This leaves friends and family members wondering how, exactly, they can be supportive during such a trying time.
The short answer is that it is not easy. There may not always be a “right” thing to say to support your friend or family member who is struggling after being arrested for DUI.
Still, you have options to ensure you aren’t contributing to their anxiety, and ways to be a supportive part of their life’s foundation when they need it most.
There’s a learning curve and there will likely be growing pains, but even reading this and being open to learning how best to support your loved one after a DUI arrest is progress. It demonstrates caring and compassion for your loved one.
So, buckle up, and let’s embark on a journey of understanding.
Please note that these tips may also help you navigate ways to support any friends or family member who are struggling, not just those who have DUI convictions or need a DUI criminal defense attorney.
Use This as a Learning Opportunity for Yourself: How Can You Emotionally Support Your Friend?
Elise Kalokerinos, a senior lecturer in psychology and co-director of the Functions of Emotions in Everyday Life Lab at the University of Melbourne studies how people manage emotions and navigate daily life.
She notes that people have a difficult time supporting friends who are struggling, and part of that difficulty is revealed in a recent survey about methods used to manage friends’ emotions: 378 strategies were identified, with some being better than others. The good news, she reiterates, is that supportive behaviors can be learned; it’s a skill.
Kalokerinos outlines 5 actions and strategies to consider when helping friends through difficulties:
#1 Resist the Temptation to Downplay Their Problems
“Whatever your own take on your friend’s dilemma, it’s important to be responsive to their requests, and to prioritise trying to understand how they feel,” she writes in Psyche. “Some studies suggest that being supportive is helpful only when we are responsive in this way. Moreover, being responsive to other people – trying to understand them, valuing their opinions and abilities, and making them feel cared for – is a cornerstone of good relationships.”
#2 Ask Questions and Actually Listen
Kalokerinos also advises against trying to empathize too quickly and “jumping in with rapid advice”. The flaw in this is that while we believe we are intuitive and can discern how someone is feeling, studies have shown that we often miss the mark. The only thing that gets us closer to understanding is by directly asking the person how they feel. Ask how your friend is feeling, do not just assume you know based on how you would feel in a comparable situation.
Listening is also a challenge for most people. The keys to being a more effective listener are simple, she explains: First, be attentive to the person and send nonverbal signals that you are hearing them. Examples include nodding your head or making eye contact when they are speaking to you. Second, provide ‘scaffolding questions’ that help your friend elaborate on their story and their feelings. Examples include: ‘How did you feel after that?’ or ‘What happened next?’
Yet another strategy is to try active listening: paraphrase what your friend has told you in your own words. This can help them feel better, heard, and supported.
#3 Emotional Support Should Come First, Cognitive Support Should be Second
Validating your friend’s feelings is a form of emotional support that is truly valuable when they are struggling. Immediately trying to find the bright side of a situation, although you may feel that it is a comforting approach, can downplay your friend’s emotions. Instead, it is “better to validate and comfort,” as your friend talks through the situation, Kalokerinos writes. Helping someone find another perspective is a form of cognitive support that is often helpful, but only when validated by hearing and sympathizing with your friend first.
“One additional concern with cognitive support is making sure that the reframe you suggest doesn’t slip into invalidating or downplaying your friend’s feelings. The dividing line here can be difficult to navigate,” she writes. “The key is to ensure your reframe doesn’t negate your friend’s feelings that the initial situation was upsetting. Instead, focus your reframing on unexpected upsides not yet considered, or future avenues to move past the initial problem.”
#4 Don’t Take Charge of the Situation
Offering obvious and direct help/advice can contribute to your friend feeling helpless in the situation. In other words, if the advice you offer is too take-charge it may make them feel like they are incapable of handling things on their own.
“In research, people who received obvious and visible social support – rather than subtle, invisible social support – felt more stressed about an upcoming negative event,” Kalokerinos writes. A better approach is to ask your friend what they want, how they might be able to reshape the situation, and listen attentively as they discuss their options. This places you in the position of a sounding board, something everyone needs when they are going through a stressful event.
Your goal should be to facilitate your friend’s decisions, not dominate them.
#5 Don’t Vent Together
This is something to be weary of because sometimes venting about a situation with someone can spiral into negativity. In psychological lingo it’s called “co-ruminating” and can make both you and your friend feel worse in the end.
Some researchers suggest that simply knowing about co-rumination can be enough to stop it.
Kalokerinos says that simply bringing up that you are spiraling into negativity can do the trick, or even changing the subject a bit and shifting focus as a distraction can work.
“Distraction can interrupt that feeling of being stuck in a problem,” she writes, so you can opt to agree to halt the discussion for a few hours and do something that is pleasant and distracting for you both. Then you can come back to the situation once you’ve had that break.
Validating-and-reframing is an evidence-backed approach that helps stop the spiral of rumination.
It is equally important to consider a strategy of support that is appropriate to the situation. Some researchers are exploring how the most effective way of giving support may be dependent upon who, where, and when regarding the situation.
Consider the personality (and self-esteem) of the person you’re helping: People with lower levels of self-esteem are often more responsive to emotional support that validates their experiences, according to a series of studies conducted at the University of Waterloo. These studies revealed that people with lower self-esteem “benefited less from reframing and other forms of cognitive social support.”
“People with lower self-esteem found this reframing cognitive support less helpful, and the people who provided the support felt worse about the interaction, themselves and their friendships more broadly,” she writes.
These findings suggest that it is vital to carefully consider your friend’s personality and their preferences when you provide support.
Consider culture, too, when providing support:
Some families and cultures are more comfortable with more direct support, whereas others appreciate more subtle actions. According to Kalokerinos, cross-cultural studies between European, Asian and Asian American, and the Latino cultures in the US show varying levels of willingness to both ask for and to be receptive of support: bottom line, different cultures often have different dynamics.
Consider when: Online or in-person
People have grown skeptical of interactions based in the digital world, but this can still be incredibly effective, particularly with the younger generations and especially with young people who have limited support in-person.
“Indeed, studies with young adults have found that support received digitally (e.g., through messages and video calls) was just as helpful as face-to-face support,” Kalokerinos writes. If digital support is readily available, as is often the case, then it is worth using, she notes, explaining that the strategies she has shared are equally applicable in the digital world and can be helpful in supporting friends from afar.
The great news from all these recent studies that she discusses is that there is an opportunity for everyone to be a better friend and family member. Challenging times are growth opportunities for the person struggling, and for those striving to support them. So much of life is the continual process of learning; the willingness to humble yourself and discover a new and better path. EQ or emotional intelligence is really not intrinsic to people, it is learned—a skill that is cultivated with time that can help you become a tremendous asset to those you care about: a sounding board, a place of comfort, a guiding force for good in a world where everyone is struggling in some capacity.
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