Let’s face it, being a friend is not always fun and easy. Unlike shallow relationships, real friendship is an investment that has its seasons of struggle. Either you’re the one struggling, your friend is struggling, or the struggle bus came for everyone at the same time! But really, how can you help a friend who can’t seem to get out of a depressive funk and never wants to leave her house, or a friend who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol every weekend to “forget about an ex,” or a friend who consistently expresses how stressed and anxious she feels? Although no one has the power to change someone else, there are several approaches that open the lines of communication and provide a conducive environment for change to occur. Think of it like this, you don’t have the power to make a flower grow, but if you give it good soil, water, and proper sunlight, the chances of it growing are much better than if you planted it in rocks, didn’t water it, and locked it in a dark room. Any friend that you are eager to help requires a healthy environment to feel safe expressing herself and move toward a change. These are some healthy methods to try when helping a friend:
1. Come as an equal
Before approaching a friend you believe needs help, check your own mindset. If you think you’re “better” than your friend because you have your “life together” and can offer some good advice, you’re probably not ready to initiate a conversation. Everyone has low points, so really, we are equal in our struggles.
2. Make the time.
Basically, don’t ask “How are you doing” or “How can I help” if you don’t have the time to listen. A consistent presence is the basis of a safe foundation where a friend can feel comfortable sharing and also listening to wise guidance.
3. Don’t let resistance discourage you.
Running into the walls of “Don’t worry about me,” “I’ll be fine,” and “Nothing is wrong” can quickly cause a sense of frustration. How can this person possibly think everything is okay!? Are they blind!? Relax. The wall may seem very high, strong, and impossible to get through, but that’s just an illusion.
4. If you’re not genuine in your actions, forget about it.
This one is so important. Insincere gestures of concern and care are quick to realize. If you’re just going through the motions of helping a friend to be “nice,” and not because you genuinely care, the results of your actions might actually cause more harm than good.
5. Patience, patience, patience.
If you’re looking for an aha moment after a “deep” five-minute conversation, your expectations are unrealistic. Helping someone through a season of pain takes real perseverance, because your friend may be struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Be patient and just stick with the process.
6. Continue to be a friend.
Despite whatever your friend is experiencing, don’t forget the friendship part of your relationship. Focusing so narrowly on that person’s struggles can cause you to stray away from just being a friend. Keep laughing and joking and doing the same things you both loved to do together.
7. Set your own boundaries.
Boundaries not only protect you from losing yourself in another person’s pain, but they also protect your friend from becoming overly dependent on you. Being an amazing friend does not mean picking up every 2am phone call, sacrificing every weekend to hangout, or paying for your friend’s every meal. Set clear boundaries for yourself on what you can and cannot do, both you and your friend will benefit from it.
8. Take care of yourself.
This is the classic example of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping the person next to you. It’s extremely difficult to help someone else out, if you are finding it hard to breathe. The healthier you feel physically and emotionally, the better you can be as a friend.
9. Set a good example.
Are you offering advice that you don’t live out? Would you follow the guidance of someone who doesn’t live what she's preaching? The answer is probably no. If you suggest to a friend that she should try out counseling, maybe you should set the example of attending a few sessions for an issue that you’re having a rough time handling.
10. Never give up.
Sometimes, hope is the only thing that we have to hold onto when situations seem impossible. Don’t give up on your friend, but also, don’t give up on yourself. You may not always say the right thing or do the right thing, but the fact that you haven’t given up speaks louder than all of your mistakes.