Coloured portrait

Coloured portrait

Monday, March 14, 2016

What Not to Say to a Friend in Need

Five things to avoid when someone close is distressed

A heart-warming response to the extremely demanding time that I had gone through until last July, when I left a very difficult marriage and moved on my own, was a fellow dancer’s question, after confessing that he had worried about me:

“Is there anything that I could have done to help?” 

His question inspired me to write this article, the friendly instructions most of us never had, in dealing with someone close to us who is stressed, distressed or grieving. My answer was...but first, let me tell you this:

1.     Do not try to fix her!

Unless your help is solicited, it will make things worse. By sharing her pain with you, your friend is looking for your support, not your solution.

2.     Do not make assumptions about what your friend needs!

Instead, inquire. Ask: “What do you need?” and “How can I be helpful to you?” If your friend is confused or gives you a vague, non-doable answer, such as “I need you to just be there for me”, you can help out by asking: “How can I do that?” Find out what specific action is needed from you that is useful to your friend in need.

3.     Keep it practical!

If your help is required, first tend to your friend’s practical needs before offering advice, counseling or consolation. What does he need? Money? Food? A place to stay? A baby-sitter, or pet-sitter? A lead or referral? Nothing is more frustrating to someone looking for practical help then getting a flood of ideas and suggestions. Especially, don’t send your friend another website link. For that, there’s Google!

4.     Do not disappear!

The worst you can do is walking out the door, physically or emotionally – stopping calling, stopping writing, stopping visiting with your friend. He will have to deal with your absence beside his already existing stressors, and it could be painful.

Most people don’t know what to say when someone is hurting. Instead of avoiding the awkward silence by staying away, reach out to your friend and tell him: “I see how difficult it is for you right now, and I don’t really know what to say to you”. Your presence alone may be all the support that your friend needs, and it may make a difference.

5.     Do not rely solely on words to show support!

Touch! A warm, caring hand on your friend’s shoulder, a hug, a kiss on her cheek, touching her hand – is louder than words in showing your presence, care and willingness to give support. 

“Is there anything that I could have done to help?”

“Yes”, I told my friend, the dancer: “You could have held me, given me a hug, you could have told me of your concern for me, and let me know that you were there for me in case I needed you.”

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