It's inherently difficult to be emotionally tied to a situation wherein you lack control. I remember once watching some undercover cop scenario on TV; the character put herself in danger as her partner watched remotely through a security camera. The partner commented, "Sometimes not doing anything at all is the hardest thing." I absolutely agree. (Although my boyfriend at the time demonstrated his lack of maturity by bursting out, "No it's not! Doing nothing is the easiest thing ever! That's just lazy!" I often wonder about my judgement in that relationship.) It's tough not to be in the driver's seat because we usually believe that we would be able to help the situation, or bring something to the table that would change the course of events for the better.
I think that there are two main difficulties when supporting a loved one through a tumultuous time; one selfless, and one selfish. I find these instincts battling within me. First and foremost is the desire to prevent pain in those we care for. We don't want to see them suffer (and it sounds callous, but I think this is why people sometimes refuse to see others' pain; it's easier to deny its existence if it's not something we can fix). Lurking close behind on the tails of this noble instinct is the less flattering reaction; How will this affect me?
I have a particular fear of being affected by a loved one's personal trials. From being impacted at a young age by my mother fighting intense flashbacks from chilling childhood experiences, I've always been anxious when my partner is experiencing a personal trauma. I've been through other experiences reinforcing this fear; a close friend came out to me in high school and, when she people judging her at her school, became angry with me and vehemently accused me of not accepting, or understanding her, as well. I also had a devastating few weeks in college when a fellow student passed away unexpectedly in our dorm, and my boyfriend ignored me in public places and refused to talk, saying he needed time and that I couldn't understand. Of course I'm nervous about how my loved ones' tribulations will impact my own life and my relationships with them.
However, I have grown through these experiences, and recognize that not all personal adversities result in broken relationships. My past experiences, the latter in particular, all put me in a position of little to no control or influence. I remember my mother once advising me to let dinner guests bring a loaf of bread to my apartment, saying, "It makes people feel good to contribute something." I think this applies perfectly to the topic at hand. In the past I had been pushed away during difficult times, leaving me hurting and creating additional problems between me and the suffering party. In contrast, wiser, more mature people recognize that pushing away concern is merely a way to gain control over a situation. My current partner, for example, is grateful to have me as a sounding board during difficult times, but probably doesn't recognize how much comfort is gives me to just feel like I'm helping in some small way.
Still, giving comfort to those we love through a period of ordeal is always challenging. When do we step back and give someone space? How selfless should we be, and how much should we disrupt our own lives for others? After a time, are we enabling the sufferer? Or do they still need to be built up, emotionally? At what point is it ok to gently remind others that we have needs and concerns of our own? Part of the trial is that the answers to these questions will change with each person and situation. But I think that my current thinking is to give love and support until it hurts, (or begins to disrupt your daily activities and major goals). Because when someone else is the protagonist, playing a supporting role might be the best way to help.