How to support a friend who’s going through a hard time
We’d love to hand you a step-by-step script forexactly how to help a friend who’s going a hard time, but (as you’ve probablyalready figured out by now) tough situations and human emotions don’t followset formulas. Instead, here are our tips for showing up for your friend with understandingand empathy, and letting them know you’re there.
Check in with them regularly
Send a text, make a call, or send a card: even if they don’t reply, they’ll know that you’re thinking about them. A lack of response usually isn’t personal – it can just be really, really hard to work up the energy and initiative to even think of what to say. They’ll still value you reaching out.
Most of us naturally stop trying when the other side doesn’t reciprocate much, and unfortunately that can lead to the person who’s struggling becoming lonely and more isolated. It could be a wonderful gift for your friend to have the security that you’ll keep in touch anyway, unconditionally and without pressure to respond.
Sit in the mess with them
If your person opens up about where they’re at,let them do most of the talking. Be willing to listen without giving advice. Sharingfeelings is a vulnerable thing, and it feels safer when trusted people canrespond with acknowledgement and affirmation, like yeah that makes sense,or that sounds really hard or simply I see that.
Sometimes we’ll try to show we understand byjumping in with our own stories, or offering our own take on the situation. Butthat good intention can have an unintentional distancing or patronising effect,undoing the empathetic listening and acceptance we started with.
It is OK to say thatyou don’t know what to say. In really tough times, there’s probably absolutely nothing you can think upthat make their world feel better right now. If your heartfelt motivation isfor your friend to be OK again, simply share that feeling: I wish I could make it alright for you. I’d fix this if I could. I’m so sad this happened.
Hold back from trying to fix it
Even if you have some great advice, they maynot be ready to hear it. If you have a similar story to tell, it may not helpthem feel supported. Every hard situation is hard in its own way.
Avoid the cliches and forced positivity (andany sentence that starts with ‘at least’). Remember that feeling sad about sadthings is normal and natural – we don’t always have to cheer someone up or findthem a silver lining. Your job here is letting your friend know that they’renot alone, and that you’re willing to stick with them as they work their waythrough this.
Be specific about offers of help
‘What can I do to help?’ is a GREAT question, but it’s so broad that it could be too much for your person to figure out the answer. Same goes for ‘let me know if you need anything’: they might have no idea what they need, or what could possibly make a difference.
Try making a specific suggestion, with a yes/no answer, especially if you notice there’s something which is overwhelming for your friend right now: ‘I’m free Saturday morning, would it help if I took your dog for a walk?’ ‘Is there space in your freezer? I can drop off a homemade curry tomorrow’.
Surprises, even sweet ones, can have a way of backfiring, so always ask before you do something, and don’t get other friends or family on board without permission (there may be valid reasons that they haven’t opened up to a wider group.)
And an important sidenote: if you’re already spinning loads of plates, don’t over-offer here. There are times you can’t give all the practical help you might like to, and that’s totally OK.
This isn’t a complete list of advice for supporting someone though a hard time – and even if we made it ten times longer, there’s just no perfect way to do this! It might take some time and mistakes and repairs to figure it out, but by making the effort to check in, letting them know they’re not alone, and giving practical help in some small way, you can make a real difference.
Thanks for reading! Please share this post, you never know who might need it.
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