You know that thing when you need to just get it all out and externally process all the emotions and intricacies of The Big Problem in your life and then your friend starts trying to solve The Big Problem for you? It’s frustrating, because you just want her to listen and affirm that you are not crazy, maybe pat your arm or bring you chocolate, but she misses that and wades into your life like a squeaky, yellow-clad hazmat team.
Argh, how do you handle this? Do you just stop sharing and work out your stuff safely inside your own head? We all screw this up sometimes, because we’re problem solvers. But we need each other. So rather than shutting ourselves or each other down, let’s work on getting better at our bedside manner. Whether you’re the hurting friend or you’re the friend not sure how to help, here’s how to listen when a friend is in pain.
1. Let your friend guide you. If your friend is in pain and processing something with you, let her guide the conversation. If she asks for advice, then gently offer it. If she’s sharing because she needs comfort, give her comfort. Respond to her, rather than direct her.
2. Ask her what she needs. If you aren’t completely sure, don’t try to read her mind. Ask her, “Are you looking for advice or do you just need me to listen? I can do either and just want to be here for you right now.”
3. Focus on listening. And show her that you’re listening by making affirming statements like, “Ugh, that sounds crazy hard,” “It sounds like you navigated that well,” or just, “I’m so, so sorry.” Make her feel heard and understood.
4. When you don’t know what to say, say exactly that. Sometimes when our friends are going through something rough, we feel like we need wise words. Honestly, when life falls apart, ill-timed words can just make us mad or beat us down. So skip the greeting card platitudes and go with, “I have no words. I love you. This completely stinks, and I’m sorry.”
5. Don’t be afraid of silence. Sitting quietly in solidarity is almost always appreciated. It’s comforting not to be alone, but often we don’t want to talk. So sit. If she’s a toucher, throw an arm around her or stroke her hair. If she isn’t, just sit near her. Don’t do. Just be.
It’s hard to navigate friendship when someone is struggling, but we can do hard things together. When life is crumbling and we’re brittle and breakable, we need each other to come close and not make it worse.
For more about finding mom friends, check out my book, Women Are Scary: The Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding Mom Friends, at WomenAreScary.com.
You can also ENTER TO WIN a free copy of her book here on our contests page!