You just found out that one of your friend's kids was diagnosed with cancer. Another friend's husband cheated. Or maybe her parents were critically injured in an accident. You really want to be there for her, but you're afraid you might actually make things worse somehow.
So what should you do? What is the best way to support her through these difficult situations? Keep reading for five practical ideas to support your friend in crisis.
Get 5 practical tips from a therapist about how to help a friend who is going through a hard time.
So many times I hear people say how much they want to support their friend who is suddenly facing a crisis or difficult time, but they're also terrified of saying or doing something that may make things worse for her. Or they rationalize that other people are better equipped or skilled to get involved, so they steer clear. But avoiding her altogether, even when your intentions are good, actually causes more hurt. It is far better to tell your friend, "I don't know what to say, but I'm sorry and I'm here for you" than to say nothing at all. Silence from friends and loved ones really stings.
If you're looking for more ways to show support, I have listed five tips about things you can do to help your friend in meaningful and practical ways.
Tip #1 for supporting your friend: Show up
That's the secret. Really. Just show up. Your friend will most likely not reach out or ask for help, but you can and should show up for her. Stop by her home to sit with her or suggest going for a walk together, whatever way you can be there with her works. Your presence is enough and it makes a difference.
Tip #2 for supporting your friend: Meet a practical need
You can't magically fix any problems, but you can meet some basic needs. Bring a meal over, offer to watch her children for an hour or two, clean her kitchen or bathroom, or place a grocery order for delivery to her home or pick it up yourself. These things may sound simplistic, but helping to meet real and practical needs is a great way of supporting a friend.
Tip #3 for supporting your friend: Allow space for her grief
Painful events that alter our lives need to be grieved. You can meet your friend right where she's at, without helping her look for the silver lining or trying to encourage her with a pep talk. Those things can happen in time, but right now she needs you to accept her grief and empathize with her pain, not try to resolve it or minimize it. This can feel super intimidating because it's hard to watch someone in pain without wanting to make it all better. But your friend needs to be supported as she processes her pain, not instead of processing the pain.
Tip #4 for supporting your friend: Listen without giving advice
There is nothing you can say to magically fix her situation, so listen without feeling the need to offer a plan or solution. You can meet your friend where she is. If she wants to sob, hand her the tissues. If she needs to rant, let her rant. Don't try to make her feel better by giving her advice about what she should do. Just be there for her by listening without judgment or advice.
Tip #5 for supporting your friend: Help connect her to resources if she needs additional help
I know I mentioned not giving advice or acting like a cheerleader, but you should definitely be on the lookout for signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and be ready to help connect her to available resources. If your friend is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, she needs professional help immediately. Reach out on her behalf, whether that means contacting a family member and/or local emergency service, or helping her schedule an appointment with a therapist. Shock and stress do a number on our ability to think clearly and can prevent us from making well-informed decisions. Initiating the steps to get additional help is a tremendous way to support a friend who is struggling.
I hope you found these tips helpful. For additional information about my work as a therapist, refer to my website, Compass Christian Counseling. Thanks for reading!
Bethany Greenleaf Paige is the founder and director of Compass Christian Counseling in Fernandina Beach, Florida. She utilizes a holistic therapeutic framework in her practice and has a passion for helping people overcome hardships. She specializes in affair recovery work, helping both the betrayed and the betrayer, and grief counseling for infertility issues and pregnancy loss. Call her office at 978-403-0497 or email Bethany at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.