Sometimes we want to be helpful to an adult friend who is feeling bad.
How can we offer personal help to a friend?
How can we guard against damaging our relationship with them in the process?
THREE GUIDING PRINCIPLES
1) Do you really want to help?
2) Are you willing to only listen, unless they specifically ask for more?
3) Can you pay attention to their emotions instead of their problem?
Giving advice or offering explanations and interpretations without being asked is insulting.
(It implies that you think your friend can’t think for themselves.)
DON’T INVITE MORE EMOTION THAN YOU CAN HANDLE
Even if it is clearly asked for,
don’t invite emotional release
unless you can stay with your friend while they experience their feelings.
(Don’t say “maybe you need a good cry” unless you are willing to sit through the tears!)
Your friend will be telling you about some problem that has lots of emotion attached to it.
Pay attention to the emotion, not the problem.
If they are sad, show that you care how bad it feels.
If they are angry, help them to talk it out without strongly agreeing or disagreeing.
If they are scared, comfort them physically if that’s appropriate, or with your words.
If they are feeling guilty, ask them to think about whether they might be angry instead.
If they had wanted a preacher, a therapist, or a parent they could have gone to one.
They came to you because they wanted a friend!
Two things can help when we feel bad, love and therapy.
Therapists offer therapy, friends offer love.
A true friend is someone who plays with us, enjoys us, and is there for us.
Some people always seem to be feeling bad.
Think about each of your friendships, and ask yourself this question:
“Do we usually just have fun, without talking about some problem?”
If the answer is “no,” your friend is not asking you to be a friend,
they are asking you to be a counselor or an advisor of some sort.
The potential pitfalls in such a relationship are too numerous to mention.
Either back out of this friendship cautiously
or insist that it change
into something you can both count on to be enjoyable.
Be sure you aren’t always trying to help.
“You look bad today, do you want to talk?”
“What’s wrong with you lately? Is everything OK?”
If you often say things like this to your friends,
you aren’t offering friendship,
you are offering a “helping relationship”
(which you evidently need more than your friend!).
Prove your value in some other way.
Let your friends be.
Agitation is a special rhythmic kind of wriggling.
We all do it sometimes.
We might tap a pencil against our desks, or move our legs up and down repeatedly.
PERSISTENT agitation is a sign of extreme emotion and confusion.
If the person you are trying to help agitates constantly
ask them to stop it if they can so you can concentrate.
If they keep agitating even after you’ve asked them to stop a few times,
stop talking about the problem
(and invite them for a quiet walk or something).
This person has so much going on “down deep”
that they can’t even talk with you well.
And if all of that emotion and confusion did come up,
it would definitely be way too much for you to handle in a friendship.
When your love and caring isn’t enough,
don’t be afraid to say so.
Remember that you can’t really help unless you want to,
and you can’t possibly want to if you are being overused
or if you are running out of time or energy.
Simply say: “I don’t think I can help you anymore with this,”
If they ask you where they can turn now,
tell them all you know about resources in your community.
If they don’t ask, tell them anyway if their level of pain is compelling.
[Tell them that you have a therapist friend, “Tony,”
who would be happy to suggest a course of therapy for them
if they’d write to ask.]