“A friend is one who overlooks your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden.” –Unknown
Friendships are a critical part of maintaining good mental health. Friendships provide us with love, support, and connection. In order to be a good friend, it’s important that we know how to be supportive. It can be tough to know what to do or say in a difficult situation, but with a little practice, you’ll be able to support your friends like a pro. Here are some tips on how to be a more supportive friend.
First, listen…don’t fix. Quickly summarizing your friend’s distress and offering simple suggestions to fix it can feel dismissive and judgemental. We share vulnerable information about our lives with our loved ones in order to connect with them, not for an expert opinion. When it’s your turn to talk, focus on your friend’s feelings, not what you think are obvious solutions to the situation.
Fight the urge to show your friend the positive side, offer them blanket reassurances, or ask them to suppress their unpleasant emotions. Offering support does not mean getting your friend to ignore their feelings or to instantly “feel better”. Offering support means that you are available to listen to what your friend is experiencing, with love, empathy, and without judgment. Trying to instantly change their emotions makes you feel better for helping them, but it doesn’t actually change how they feel.
Second, don’t be afraid to ask your friend specifics about what they need. The actions that are most practical are often the most helpful. When someone is overwhelmed, even the smallest acts of kindness can relieve a lot of emotional pressure. Avoid vague statements like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” or assuming that what is helpful to you will be helpful to them. Walking a friend’s dog or picking up their kids from school can mean so much more than a thoughtful gift or a night out on the town.
Finally, check in…with YOU! Are you feeling drained or overwhelmed from helping a friend through chronic issues? If you find yourself carrying your friend’s stress around with you, they may need more than a safe place to vent. If you are becoming worried about your friend’s safety, due to their abuse of substances, suicidal statements, or self-harm behaviors, it’s time to call in a professional to help. Do not try to manage issues of your friend’s safety on your own.
We all find ourselves experiencing hard times and we all need our support systems in order to get through them. Knowing how to help your loved ones keeps our support network strong and ensures that it is there for us when we need it. Listening to and acknowledging your friend’s emotions, offering practical assistance, and knowing when to get outside help are great habits to start practicing right now. If you found this article helpful, share it with your friends and family so they will know how to support you too.