It hurts to see someone we love in pain. It’s even harder to set boundaries to keep our own mental health well-tended to while offering openness and empathy. This piece adapted from A Tribe Called Bliss by Lori Harder shows us a few very real ways to support a friend who is going through a rough patch…
It’s the tough times that reveal if a friendship can withstand the test of time – but not because you’re perfectly matched friends or you’re both amazing humans. It will depend on if you have the tools and ability to navigate what comes up when your friends are going through a rough patch. Here’s some tips that will help not only them, but also protect you from going down the rabbit hole with them.
5 Ways To Support a Friend Going Though A Rough PatchReach Out. Ask when you can set a time to get together or talk on the phone. Sometimes this can be the hardest part. Often times people don’t want to be a burden, but a sense of connection is what we need most during our challenges. If you know they are struggling, let them know that you want to be a sounding board and a safe space for them to process their emotions with.
Just Listen. I remember feeling like I needed to be the perfect coach or have the best advice in order to be an awesome friend. This is not only pressure on you, but it’s not necessarily what they need or want from you. Most often in times of hardship, we are not ready to hear “It’s all going to work out fine.” Emotional pain is like waves in the ocean, if we resist them and ignore them they are going to knock our ass over until we acknowledge it and learn to ride it out. We just need someone to be there and listen with compassion. I call this “holding space.” You can do this just by being present for them and reminding them that you care.
Ask questions. Questions are an amazing way to help guide someone away from sitting in their pain and find the way to their own answer. Once you notice that they have talked through their emotions incompletion and begin repeating themselves several times, try using some questions. Tell them you want to help them move through this, take their focus off of the problem and find peace of mind. Try using some of these: How can I support you during this time? How do you want to move through this? Are you ready to talk about a solution or plan or do you still need time to process?
Invite them out. I noticed that sometimes I avoid tough situations because I don’t like confrontation or awkwardness. This can sometimes translate into us avoiding our friend that is struggling when they need us most. I always try to remember how I would want my friends to show up for me in these situations. Invite them along to things you are already doing like a workout, a walk, or the movies. Helping them get out of their typical environment is game-changing for how they feel each day. You don’t have to give the problem attention all the time and simply invite them letting them know you want to “get their mind off the problem for a while.”
Have loving boundaries. You don’t need to share these with them, these are just for you to know and enforce in your life in order to keep yourself from joining them or getting drained of your energy. Be sure to have an energetic boundary whenever you are talking about the problem. Observe it from an outsiders perspective and from 30,000 feet, aka – don’t carry the burden or get involved in any drama. You can be there for them without choosing to get hooked in. Carrying the burden with someone does not lighten their load, it just breaks both your backs. You need to stay healthy to help remind them to put it down and release. This could mean you set a “hard out” for your phone call or time spent together so you don’t end up resenting them and not going back. If the problem persists and they are not choosing to move forward after a long period of time, you will need to learn to say no to becoming the catch-all for their emotions.
This might be the toughest conversation of all, but I believe this can be the most important thing we can do as a close friend. If the problem requires more than you can give in a healthy way you will need to draw a line. You may want to try putting something like this into your own words: “I care so much for you but I’m not sure I can be the person to help you through this if you’re not ready to move forward. I have such deep compassion for you but I think it would be best if you get some outside help for more perspective and guidance – maybe a therapist or a coach. I am here for you if you whenever you want to take a class or get your mind off things but I don’t think I’m able to help you find a solution like I was hoping.”
They may not understand this and it may make you feel like crap. But this is where you either join them or know in your heart you did your part and that it’s time for them to do some healing on their own or get help. We can’t take on their burden or we have no room to take care of ourselves, our lives or our family. Cut energetic ties in a loving way but let them know you are here when they are ready to discuss a solution.
I find all of this to be wonderful advice with the exception of the suggestions for what to say in order to “HAVE LOVING BOUNDARIES” (the last part of the article). Those words read as, “You are too messed up for an untrained person to deal with.” or “You have become a burden, but I’m trying to put it nicely.” It may be better received and achieve the desired result of establishing a boundary, if one were to say, “You deserve the absolute best in life and from a friend. I so want to be able to give you the roadmap that will usher you smoothly through this time and offer you the most nourishing words, but alas, I feel like I don’t have these tools – as much as I wish I did. I wonder if it might be inspiring and truly helpful if you align with a fabulous coach or therapist. I know how much I have longed for that in times of crisis. If you want, I’ll ask around and see if my friends know of any superstar coaches or therapists?”
This article is spot on, and I really love Tanya’s amendment. As someone who has been going through a rough patch that’s lasted a few years, and as someone who has a hard time asking for help (for fear of feeling like a burden and/or alienating friends), hearing that I should seek professional help and reach out once I’m “fixed” or once my rough patch smoothes out…well, I’d feel even worse. A common reaction from friends has been the fade-away (as a reaction to grief, depression, and other “negative” emotions), but that doesn’t come from a place of malice; usually it just comes down to not knowing what to say or do. Thank you so much for writing this.
I go to watch movies with my friend to make him feel better because we love watching movies
When disasters strike in multiples, it can change who we are. Some people I thought were friends are not. They are activity partners, not deep friends. I can’t be as generous, active or chipper as I once was and am not meeting their social standards now. My mistake to not see the difference. When people have never been through a divorce, or sibling bereavement, or disability and the ensuing poverty they tend to think these events are contagious. Our 20 year connections are not at all what I thought. My bad. I’m going to stop trying to be honest and real, just stick with superficial bs if they ever contact me again. Which they won’t.