Helping a Hurting Friend
'A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.'
Arnold H. Glasow
Friendship brings with it many challenges - there can be disagreements, issues to work through and difficulties out of our control, but it is always rewarding particuarly when boths parties stick by each other through the tough times.
Something that is often challenging for both people in a friendship is when one is in pain and the other wants to help, but doesn't know what to do. Our friend may be facing a problem in another relationship, with their health, their work, their past or something else altogether. Depending on their personality and the quality of the friendship, they may or may not want to talk about it. Some deal with their issues quietly, and/or don't know how to put what they're feeling into words. Others may be keen to talk about it and only need to be asked, 'What's wrong?' However they may be dealing with it, there are a few things we can do:
1. Be there to listen, but don't force the subject
While it's important to let our friend know that we know something's wrong and are there for them, forcing them to talk about it when they're not ready often isn't helpful. They be still processing the problem, and/or feel unable to discuss it, particuarly if they have suffered a shock. Helping them in this case may mean sitting with them, letting them cry on our shoulder, and/or spending time with them without necessarily needing to fill the silence. We can show our friends support by rallying around them, perhaps even doing little jobs for them, without always discussing the topic. Sometimes the pain is beyond words, and time is needed before it can be expressed. While we can encourage them to talk and push gently if appropriate, this should be done so sensitively and with respect to their 'no'.
2. Don't try to fix the problem
As a friend, we are there to show support, but not to be a miracle worker. Sometimes, out of love, all we want to do is to save them from the pain, when inevitable all we can do is walk them through it. Trying to fix the problem for them is ultimately also disempowering them - no matter what they may be going through, they will eventually need to face the problem themselves. Only then will they truly gain power over it. We can stand by them as they do it, offer comfort and suggestions, protect them if need be, but we should never make them feel helpless or incapable.
3. Listen without judging
Our friend may have made a bad decision and/or be paying for a mistake, but as the saying goes, people need the most love when they deserve it the least. When we're listening to what's going on with them, we need to do so without judging them. The time may come for being upfront with them about what went wrong, but most people firstly need reassurance that they won't be rejected because of their mistakes. We also need to give our support even when it may not seem wanted. Hurting people often lash out at others, but instead of judging them for that, it should be a sign to us that the need love and support more than ever.
Love heals more than anything, whether it be in the form of kind words, a thoughtful gift, a helpful service, a comforting hug or giving of your time as long as it's needed and even when you're not getting much response from the person in pain. They may not always thank us for it at the time, but being loyal to a friend when they need it most almost always makes a difference, strengthens the relationship, and helps the person through a situation they may otherwise have really struggled with.