You would do anything for your friends – after all they’re the family you chose. When you met, you might have clicked because of a shared sense of humour, a moment of solidarity or similar roots. Maybe you’ve both experienced something weird or bizarre, and this has created a forever bond. Together, you feel unstoppable and the laughter is uncontrollable. The world feels right. You nourish each other’s souls.
But what happens when one of your friends is struggling? What is the right thing to do? It’s common to feel conflicted between giving that friend some space and trying to help. Whether they are going through a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or an emotionally challenging time, it can be difficult to know what’s best for them.
Often, we manoeuvre towards standing back, in fear that showing too much concern might backfire and cause even more upset or that we might be accused of ‘interfering’ if we ask questions and ask to talk. So if you’re confused about the most supportive way to navigate this, here are some tips on how to help.
Practice Active Listening
While you might be bursting to give advice or just say some positive things to make your friend feel better, it’s more important to focus fully on what they’re saying. Listen then listen more. This is much more beneficial than formulating your next response while they’re talking.
It’s not happening to you. It’s happening to them. Their experience should not be compared to yours. And you also should not compare their crisis with your opinion of a bigger crisis. Stay clear of phrases such as ‘Look on the bright side,’ or ‘It will seem better after a good night’s sleep.’ This will just belittle your friend and make them feel worse. Instead, recognise that they have a problem and acknowledge it. Start by saying something like: ‘Yes, that sounds really hard.’
Ask Open-Ended Questions
This will allow them a safe space to unleash. You’re showing support, but you’re also giving your friend the status to choose what they want to talk about and focus on. Ask simple questions such as ‘Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling.’
Voice communication creates stronger bonds than text or email, so if you can’t visit them, pick up the phone. A recent study on texts versus phone calls found that people felt significantly more connected to those they spoke to over the phone, even if they were strangers. Text messaging on its own doesn’t cut it for upholding deep connections, especially with someone who is going through a hard time.
And don’t offer suggestions of a solution or advice. Of course, you might be very tempted, and your words of wisdom are full of good intentions, but this might not be what your friend needs to hear at this moment. They are going through a process and you are there to support, not to fix.
Offer ‘Small Helps’
Do they need anything from the shops? Would they like you to pick the kids up from school? Find out if there’s anything you can do to make life just that little bit easier right now, because sometimes those small things can add up and become overwhelming. You can also ask if your friend would like you to help them get access to professional support.
No Pressure Friend
Everybody works through their issues at a different pace. If you push your friend to share more information than they’re willing to offer, you might push them too far. This might result in an argument, frustration and misunderstandings, all of which will only contribute negatively to the whole situation. So go at their pace, and let them set the agenda.
Empathy In Small Doses
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation to your friend, so you can imagine what they’re going through. And you know it’s tough. It’s OK to talk about what happened to you because this can definitely create hope for the future. However, be self-aware. Don’t turn this supportive chat into a monologue. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about them.
Keep Them In The Loop
Just because they’re struggling doesn’t mean you should take it upon yourself to make choices for your friend. Invite them for a walk, to a gathering, or out for drinks. Maybe your friend will say no often. But at least the power is with them to decide. Plus, this highlights the fact that you still value them and their company.
Use The Oldest Trick In The Book
And bake some cookies! We are all children at heart. A sweet treat always brings a smile, even for just a moment. Pick up a few brownies from the bakery on your way over to visit. Try out your grandmother’s Victoria sponge recipe. Or if your friend is more of a savoury fan, make a vegan curry they can easily reheat for dinner. This added layer of thoughtfulness not only shows that you’ve been paying attention to the things they genuinely love, but this is a non-verbal way to validate your friend’s feelings and let them know that you deeply care.