How do you help a friend who’s going through a bad time?
I’m sure that among your friends or even family there is a person who is going through a recurring crisis and needs your comfort and advice .
It may be that every time he falls in love he experiences a love failure and therefore becomes distressed; that he loses control of the same arguments and reacts with anger without thinking about what he is saying; that he feels a paralyzing phobia about elevators or social situations, acknowledges it with great shame and only tells you; or even that he finds it hard to leave the house. In these cases, it is normal to feel bad, to notice that you are very worried about his mood every time you meet.
Good friendships carry with them that responsibility, to take action in case of concern. The question is… what can we do in the face of a friend’s crisis? What is the limit to acting? What if I generate rejection by insisting on a solution or seeking help? What is the difference between the action of a professional and that of a friend?
How to help a friend in a bad time
If you are looking for knowledge to alleviate situations where people close to you are having a hard time and there seems to be no remedy and their distress is overwhelming you, this information is for you.
1. Listening is always the first and most important step
When we talk about listening, we differentiate it from “hearing” in that we not only pay attention to what we are told, but we are present and notice what you feel when you tell it. They may convey sadness, frustration and anger, a sense of helplessness… And the way we respond to each circumstance changes dramatically.
If you get this state of receptivity, when you respond you will make him listen to you . In some way, for that person to be able to give advice or encouragement, you need to let yourself be influenced; that’s how healthy relationships work, and that’s what we mean when, in many articles by colleagues on this subject, we mention that you shouldn’t jump into advice before you listen.
2. Don’t be in a hurry to respond or find a solution
We know that when there is anxiety, tension and many nerves, the feeling is that we must find an urgent way out. But from experience we can tell you that this is not the case, on the contrary, you have to breathe, lower your nerves, think as clearly as possible .
Something very significant that patients usually tell us about their friends is that “the most important thing when I told him… Is that he listened to me, didn’t judge me and stayed with me”, and we notice how they relax when they tell it, how they find some serenity in the silence. That’s why we tell you that, although it seems that you do nothing by keeping silent and waiting, you really do a lot .
3. Just because I don’t follow your advice doesn’t mean I don’t listen to you
If your friend remains silent when speaking, he or she will let your message reach him or her. It shows that their relationship with you is important, and if they don’t follow that advice, it is probably because they don’t fit in with their situation, or they don’t know how to follow it .
In many cases, something more internal than the behavior is what prevents reaching changes that improve people’s well-being. Anxiety crises, mental blocks (“blank spots”), confusion, going over the same idea again and again… make it extremely difficult to take the necessary actions to reach the solution. We insist on that idea, we know it is frustrating to see how a loved one remains in the same problem, but maintaining your presence is important .
4. When is it important to seriously recommend seeking help?
As we mentioned in the previous section, when the situation repeats itself and there seems to be no reason for the problem to persist, it is time to recommend professional help .
It may sometimes be uncomfortable to recommend a visit to a psychologist, because it seems that you are calling him/her “crazy” or that you recognize that “he/she is not capable of solving his/her problem”. But nothing could be further from the truth, it is a gesture of care and honesty, very important in friendship in difficult situations.
Let me put it this way: would you allow your friend to continue to drink alcohol once he or she has lost control after a few drinks? Would you let your friend continue to play sports if he or she had a foot injury, or would you seriously recommend that he or she go to a professional for treatment? This is the same logic we follow, if there is a personal crisis that is not resolved and repeated, it is time to recommend a professional psychologist .
5. To take care of your friend, it is important that you take care of yourself
It is true that, in some contexts, your friend can overwhelm you with his/her problem, be very insistent and not know how to stop. This can lead you to feel overwhelmed and unable to act on it.
We must know how to say enough and recognize that only by acting from our security can we help those who need us. If we lose control, we will only add frustration and tension to the problem. It is in this situation that you may find yourself giving hasty advice, trying to comfort with typical phrases (“it’s OK”, “it will pass in time”…) or even expressing that “you do nothing to remedy it” “it’s always the same” “you seem to like to suffer”. Before you regret losing control, it’s better to stop and get it back. Only by taking care of yourself can you take care of the one you care about.