A good friend is there to offer a shoulder to cry on when it’s needed. Indeed, simply being there for a friend when they come to you with a problem can, in and of itself, be helpful to them. However, there are correct and incorrect ways to respond to problems. It doesn’t mean that the solution is always the same, but that there are definite ways you can worsen the situation before you improve it. Before you jump to help that friend, consider looking at the way that you respond to problems.
One of the most frustrating things you can do to someone who is expressing their emotions about any given experience is rush past those emotions to try and promote a solution as quickly as possible If someone is struggling with their mental health, the very first thing you should do is listen to them, take in their emotional response, and validate it. You might want to get to the solutions that can help them in no time, flat, but it’s not helping them to neglect their feelings.
Empathizing with your friend can be a good thing. It can help you develop some sense of shared perspective that can make it a little easier for them to open up about their problems. However, if you’re going to say something like this, you need to know the difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy is a quick reaction to a situation or emotional state that we see and can understand. Compassion is the deliberate attempt to understand their feelings and how they’re reacting to that situation or state. Don’t go off into stories about your own similar experiences or downplay their emotional response by stating that it affected you in a different and less harmful way. Even if you don’t mean to, you’re making it harder for them to be honest about their own feelings.
If you are a great problem solver and you do know a very concrete suggestion that will help them, you can share it. Make sure they’ve had the time to express their feelings and what they want to say, first. However, if you don’t have any great ideas for advice, then don’t feel like that you have to share them. Unsolicited advice can be a risky thing to give and that’s especially so if you don’t know what kind of advice to give.
Get an idea of “brutal honesty” out of your head. A lot of people go in with that mindset, but often what they get is brutality, not honesty. Even if you believe that your friend’s own mistakes led them to the predicament that they are in, who does it help to say as much? If you judge them when they are at their most vulnerable, that is what they will remember and, as a result, they’re less likely to come to you in the future. Check to make sure you’re not judgemental when trying to be helpful.
If your friend hasn’t opened up to you in such a way before then they can feel a little awkward and vulnerable about the way they have expressed themselves. You can reassure them that you are there to support them and that you are open to that kind of relationship by checking up on them and asking them how they are doing with the problem the next day. It shows that you’re genuinely interested in their wellbeing and can alleviate any feelings of guilt they might have about “burdening” you with their problems.
If you do think that you can play an active role in helping them with their problems, then that’s great. Rather than rushing to do it yourself, however, you should ask how you can support them. They might just want someone to listen to them, they might want someone to offer advice, or they might be open to more practical and hands-on assistance. The words “what can I do to help?” can be a very important step in making sure you’re not stepping on any toes.
Again, that you’re willing to listen to and help a friend is a great thing, by itself. But if you want to make sure that you are, indeed, being on the helpful side, you need to consider the above mistakes that you might be making.
This a collaborative post.