Picture this: a friend of yours confronts you with a problem they are going through, maybe a break up or family drama, distraught and upset. They are coming to you in a hard-to-approach state, and you don’t know what to do. We’ve all been there, myself included. It seems like a daunting situation, one that can be out of our hands or overflowing in them.
Of course, you want to help them in any way you can, but there are only so many solutions you can provide. Do they need a hug? Advice? To vent? How do you know? Truly, I don’t always know myself. Being faced with this kind of dilemma is stressful, and may leave us feeling helpless or as if we’re not so good of a friend. However, something I’ve learned is that solving problems is not always what our peers need.
Being communicative with your friends is one obvious fix, though not the easiest. If they are able to tell you what they need, you may be able to help accordingly. Not all people want to do this, and not all people are able. We don’t always know what we need until it is right in front of us. I find myself wanting somebody with me when I feel like I’m stuck in a corner, so that I know I am not alone. Simply being there and listening to them might be the extent of what you can do, and that’s ok! The presence of someone you care about helps a lot in times of need. Oftentimes, when I find myself venting to a friend or letting out my emotions, I don’t expect it to be fixed. I know that my friends can only do so much, and just having them there for me makes a big difference. It is comforting to know they are by my side, even if the situation can’t be fixed at that moment.
Though it can be frustrating to see our friends sad and distraught and not be able to make things better for them, we have to understand that we are doing the best we can. You are human too, and your feelings matter. Setting boundaries with others about how much you can handle is more than fair, and extremely necessary. That being said, we cannot expect that treatment towards ourselves, either. While having someone you are comfortable enough to vent to, their support is not a replacement for professional help. I know that may seem daunting or scary at times, but there are so many resources that can help you find a mental health professional. Using sources such as Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist locator, or reaching out to trusted adults can help you get there.
A conflict I used to face quite a lot was how to make others want to be in that same mental space. The truth is, we can’t. We cannot force our friends into therapy, talking to a doctor, or going to their parents for help. The best thing we can do is help them find the desire to do so on their own. However, there are certain situations that we cannot stand by and watch. I have spent countless nights asking myself, “Will they hate me if I tell? What will happen if I don’t get help?” It felt like I was betraying them, but looking back I know that my intentions were pure, and if I had not reached out, a very close friend of mine might not be here today. So, how can you help when a friend confronts you with suicidal thoughts/actions, self harm, or other physical problems? The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To website is a great resource for this exact question. The site can help guide you if you notice a friend may be feeling suicidal. Building a safe environment for your friend and providing the right materials to educate and help them as efficiently as possible is the best thing you can do.
To continue being there for your friends, you have to also be there for yourself, and take care of your own mental stability. Saying things like, “I want to give you my full attention, can we talk when I am able to do so?” or giving small words of encouragement such as, “You will be just fine, and I will help you in any way I can,” goes a very long way.
Occasionally, knowing there is a support system at all can help settle someone. When being open about when you are/are not emotionally available, it is very important to be patient and nurturing to your peers. They, too, are going through a rough time and we don’t want to put more on their plate. It can help to be reassuring, saying things like “I know you can get through this,” and “I’m so glad to have you as a friend,” or even just “I am here for you.” These are all good things to say when we can’t devote all of our energy to our friend, or when you cannot provide a fix for their problem.
Not only is it important to be kind to them, but it is important to be kind to ourselves. Blaming yourself or feeling guilty for being unable to patch up the issue is something to try and avoid. Life has its ups and downs, and in some cases we just have to feel out the pain and let it pass with time. Ask yourself, would you be upset with a friend if they could not solve your problem? Hopefully, the answer is no, and I’m sure they feel the same way. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and be sensitive when handling the emotions of others.
Spend quality time with friends and family and check in on the people that don’t seem to open up as often. The colder seasons can be especially hard for many, but a simple hug or a “how are you?” text can really make all the difference. We don’t always see it, but those little things mean the most. So, how are you?