The Flourish, May 2022: Tip of the Month
How to Support a Friend During Tough Times
The last few years have presented us with unexpected challenges like no other time before. We have all been through tremendous change and it'll take some time for us to feel a sense of stability. This is why we need to find support for ourselves as well as be there for our peers and build out the crucial support system that is community care. Here are some tips on how we can support each other through hard times.
- Be direct. Let your friend know that you’ve noticed a change and you want to talk in a safe setting. Say what you've noticed, and avoid making any judgements or assumptions. Be aware of automatic judgements, like “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why are you like this?”, and move towards intentional, compassionate inquiry, such as “You seem distracted today. What’s going on?”, or “How can I support you at this moment?”.
- Be warm. Show you care about your friend’s well-being by being gentle with your words, soft with your body language, and give them your full presence. We build psychological safety by providing spaces for each other where we can be imperfect, talk about failures, and show up as the works in progress we all are.
- Build trust. Ask how you can support them at this moment. The kind of support a friend needs will change based on the context and your relationship with them, so the only way to know what they need is to ask. Try saying: "I care about your well-being, so I just wanted to check in to see how you're doing. I want to know how I can be the most helpful to you." or “How can I be helpful?”
- Be there to listen. Provide a space for your friends to speak and be heard. Listen patiently as you try to understand their experience, taking time to affirm their emotional experience. Your full presence, compassion, and warmth in itself is healing.
- Be an active listener. Gently ask follow-up and open-ended questions to better understand your friend. This lets them know they’re being heard, and helps move them and you towards understanding what greater needs may be unmet. Allow space for silence and time for them to collect their thoughts. “Awkward” silences are actually “trust-building” silences. In this space of silence we demonstrate both the safety of your presence and our willingness to be patient, sitting with them in discomfort (compassion, from Latin compati → to suffer with).
- Share wisely. It's common that you will be reminded of your own related experiences and struggles while your friend is sharing. Wait, be intentional about what and when you share — what will the impact be of me interrupting their sharing, might I break their momentum of openness? True, it may be helpful to share your experiences if it instills hope, such as positive interactions with mental health support resources, but make sure they are in a place to be receptive to your thoughts.
- Help them connect to resources. Helping them move through the steps of accessing a resource greatly increases the likelihood that they actually connect to the resource. Your help in demonstrating the help-seeking process teaches them what it’s actually like, and can build their confidence to do it on their own in the future. Learn more on how you can encourage your friend to get help.
- Follow-up. Reconnect with your friend to make sure that they successfully connected with the resources that you suggested. This reminds them that you care about them, and helps you understand where they’re at in the process of building their support system.
- Signs Your Friend Might Be Struggling Emotionally The JED Foundation
- How and When to Start a Conversation with a Struggling Friend The JED Foundation
- How to Take Care of Yourself When Taking Care of Friends The JED Foundation