It's never easy seeing someone we love go through a difficult time. It can make us feel helpless or unsure of how to act. Sometimes we take a step back and it ends up alienating them or we try to help, and it backfires. How do we know when to give them space or to step in and lend a hand?
Here are 4 tips to support a friend in need:
1. Instead of trying to fix their problems, hold space for them and listen.
When someone we love is in pain, it's only natural that we want to try and solve the problem for them or help find a solution. Unfortunately, trying to fix things can sometimes make them worse. The one thing you can be sure is helpful is letting them know you are there and that you haven't given up on them. It doesn't have to be with big, grand gestures. Write down what you love or respect about them and offer small touches to let them know you are thinking of them, no response necessary.
It's not about what you say or don't, but about showing up for them. Stay present with them and lean in. There are some things that we will never be able to fix or even navigate for our friends, but we can hear them, hold space for them, and show them that they are loved.
2. Show up for them in the way that is right for them. Not everyone has the same needs.
Often people don't know how to best show up for their friends, but not for a lack of care. We tend to make the mistake of thinking that everybody wants to be treated the way we want to be treated when really each person is different.
Our job, in spiritual terms, is to become like the Creator, a force that is thinking about others all the time and tr to be there in the way that is right for them. Some people like to talk through their problems, some people need advice, and others are looking for a friendly distraction. Don't assume they want to be treated the way you do. Strive to understand what they need from you and then support them in that way.
3. Be mindful of the ways you are judging them for their problems.
When a friend is in a dark place, it's easy to fall victim to thoughts like, "Why can't they just snap out of it?" or, "This is all because of a bad decision they made!" No matter how much we love them, our judgment tends to creep in in unconscious ways and limits how much we can be there for them.
We can never fully understand what another person is going through, even if we have experienced something similar. Each person's life experience and circumstances are unique. Fight against the inclination to judge them, and instead focus on sending them love and support.
4. Strive to give love, regardless of how it is received or what you get in return.
Friendships are an investment in the sense that we put out energy and receive energy back. But sometimes our friends aren't in a position to give back to us, especially when they are in a dark place. So, we have to make a conscious decision about the kind of friends we want to be, setting aside what we want to receive from the friendship.
Most of us hold ourselves back from fully sharing appreciation or love, even with those closest to us. We may fear rejection, looking clingy or foolish, or that our love will not be received well. But holding back on expressing love only leads to regret in the longterm. Friendship is really about loving someone for their essence, not for what they give you in return. The goal is to become someone who remembers and appreciates and gives love, no matter how it will be received.
True friendship requires us to step outside of ourselves. When a friend is in need, stop trying to be the hero that fixes everything. Put aside your judgments and listen to what they need from you. Don't assume that you know what is best for them. Strive to show up for them and give them love without any expectation in return. Go the extra mile for them, and your life and the world will be better for it.