friendship / Relationships

How to be a Supportive Friend

Nowadays, as our lives grow increasingly task-oriented, and technology creeps into every facet of our existence, it seems like we could all use a reminder of how to be a friend. Those of us who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s may remember extended conversations, both on the phone and in person, with people we cared about.

Today, the opportunity to connect is still there… but more and more our attention is divided and we’re distracted by technology. Where do you go when you need a friend? Facebook can sometime seem like drowning in a sea of smiling faces but where you can’t really reach a human to have their undivided support and attention.

Texting is often too brief, and confusing. There are also the spontaneity and time lapse factors that makes texting and PMs frustrating as we try and fail, to grasp the undivided attention of other humans.

The awareness of mental illness, including depression and anxiety, has grown in recent years. More people are “out” with their personal problems, such as relationship challenges, inability to cope with stress, trouble managing emotions and other common issues that we all face.

So considering all of these things… that tech communication is counterproductive, everyone is busy and distracted, and mental illness is on the rise despite increasing access to help… how can we work on being a better friend to those around us?

When a friend comes to you wanting to emote, express, and release their hurt, what can you offer in the way of support?

Below, find 7 simple yet soul-satisfyingly meaningful gifts to offer a friend in their time of need.

Listening ears and an open heart. What do you do when a friend needs, not wants, but NEEDS to talk? One way we can really give to those we care about is to simply put a halt to all distractions. Make eye contact. Observe their body language. Listen to their words, and really hear what they’re saying. You don’t have to judge, troubleshoot, or problem solve on the fly for them, unless that’s what they specifically ask you to do. Offering the simple gift of listening and observing with all of your senses is often just what a friend may be searching for.

Empathy. What is empathy? It is taking a moment to step into another person’s proverbial shoes, and really try to imagine what it is they may be experiencing and feeling. It helps if you have already gone through the same challenge that they’re currently facing. But if not, just take a moment to try and visualize their situation. What thoughts would you have? How might you react emotionally? If your friend tends to be either more emotional or less emotional than you, but you want to try and connect with how they feel, another way to do it is to flash back to something that may have happened to you that produced the same reaction that they’re having now. That’s a good way to emotionally connect even if you know that their situation would not affect you in quite the same way.

Validation. With more and more people caught up in their own personal involvements these days, it can be difficult to have your reality acknowledged. But this is what validation is all about, and many of us are running around truly suffering from lack of it. What is validation? It’s as though someone is saying YES, I see YOU. YOU are really here. YOUR situation is real. YOUR emotions are real. YOU have value and YOU are worth thinking about, talking to, sharing and just being with.

Advice. This may really depend on the individual situation and what your friend needs at the moment. Some people seek out support when they’re specifically wanting validation of their feelings, and to be heard. They may really not need advice at all. But at other times, or with different friends, advice might just be what the doctor ordered. You’ll have to feel out the situation and get a sense of whether your well-meaning advice will be appreciated and well received. But even if it isn’t, you can advise in the form of sharing your own stories. If you have already faced and persevered through whatever this person is going through, you can offer up your own story, for said friend to take or leave the kernel of wisdom that you impart.

Encouragement. A friend who’s feeling in need of support would certainly warm to some encouragement. This is a very simple but meaningful thing that you can give while showing empathy and concern for another’s troubles. Positive statements such as “You can do it,” “You’ll get through this,” “You’re a fighter,” and other supportive words will really go far to help a friend feel empowered. But if you’re not a wordy type, you can also use nonverbals such as a smile, kind hug, expressive eye contact, or a pat on the shoulder to convey your support.

Perspective. Sometimes a friend will come to you with a problem because they feel like they’re stuck in a loop, or caught in a limiting mindset. The same, negative message keeps playing in their head. Maybe they’re being too hard on themselves, or maybe they’re laying blame on someone else. The truth is that your friend has a problem that needs solving, and they’ve come to you because they know they need help. So perhaps the breakthrough that they really need is a different point of view.

If more people just freely give each other what they need, when they need it, the world would be a much more nurturing and peaceful place.

Other wonderful gifts you can offer to a friend in need include understanding, commiseration, cooperation. Can you team up to problem-solve together? Offer an extra pair of hands to lift a heavy load? What about just showing up for them with a good attitude and willingness to help in whatever way possible?

It isn’t so difficult to help someone turn things around for themselves, and feel good.

How will you support a friend today?

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