Everyone has a friend in need at one time or another. The widespread panic and quarantining of the coronavirus in early 2020 is a perfect example of a time when individuals that are hurting or scared simply need help.
This help can come in a variety of different ways including providing emotional, and even physical support, depending on the situation. If you have a friend in need, here are some suggestions and considerations for how you can go about advocating for your loved ones.
Always Put Yourself in Their Shoes First
When you hear that someone is hurting, it’s often tempting to rush off and “help” them as soon as possible. This help typically revolves around what you think you would want in a similar scenario.
Instead, make sure to slow down and think things through first. Consider what they are going through. If a friend is separating from a spouse of fifteen years, think about what it would feel like emotionally and mentally before you rush to their side. If a veteran that you know is going through PTSD, do your best to imagine what it would be like.
This is always a good place to start.
Avoid a “Mr. Fix It” Mentality
As you go about supporting your friend, remember that you don’t know their inner thoughts, how they react, or what they need. In fact, in many cases, there’s a good chance they won’t know what they think, feel, or need for a while either.
That’s why it’s essential that you avoid a “Mr. (or Mrs.) Fix It” mentality. Don’t be a hero. Don’t make this about you. Instead, make sure to think about what they need. This can often be small and seemingly insignificant, but a small deed done well is almost always better than a larger, uncalled for or even inappropriate action or gesture.
If you’re nodding your head in agreement to the last section, but you’re not sure how to put it into action, start by listening. Active listening is always one of the most powerful tools in a helper’s tool chest.
Active listening doesn’t mean you can’t talk. In fact, you should respond when appropriate. However, the majority of your time should be spent genuinely listening and striving to hear what your friend needs to communicate.
Along with active listening, try to avoid cliche answers, don’t be corrective or negative, and empathize whenever possible. In addition, don’t speak out of ignorance. Unsolicited or unfounded advice can easily exacerbate an already sensitive scenario. If, for instance, a friend is in trouble with the law and they’re going to court, take time to read up on what that’s likely going to look like from the arraignment hearing to the sentencing. This way, you can find the best times they may be in need of a little extra support.
Stay Calm and Don’t Gossip
Along with listening and advice, make sure to avoid feeding the fire through words that might increase a friend’s pain, anger, or sadness. Telling a friend who just lost a loved one how hard a funeral can be isn’t going to do them any good early on in the grieving process.
As a rule, be on guard against impulsive statements and try to avoid being emotional while still being empathetic and compassionate. In addition, always remember to maintain your friend’s privacy. In other words: don’t gossip.
Carefully Offer Support
While listening and talking are often all that is required, sometimes actionable advice or other forms of help are needed, too. Sometimes this is very practical, such as helping a friend set up a budget or babysitting kids — who may also need a helping hand — while they go through grief.
Even small things like handling legal documents for an elder that is dealing with end of life concerns can be huge. At other times actionable help can be as easy as watching a movie or going out to get some food.
The point is, make sure to think about how to offer them help, if it’s appropriate, and remember to ask what they need beforehand. If you can’t do anything in a particular situation, you can still simply let them know that you’re available. The quiet support can be incalculably helpful.
Remember, You’re Not a Professional
Finally, just because you saw a three-minute clip of Doctor Phil dealing with the same issue back in the day doesn’t mean you’re equipped to deal with a serious problem. For instance, if you’re a civilian trying to help a friend who is the spouse of a marine, you may want to refer them to resources specifically tailored to helping military families. If a friend in a Third World nation can’t send their children to school, you can bring their attention to nonprofits that can help them.
If things become particularly serious, such as a depressed friend who becomes suicidal, there may come a time when you should connect them directly with a third party, like a counselor, who can offer more professional help.
Don’t Worry About Rejection
Through all of this, it’s important to remember that it’s okay if you’re rejected. If your offers for aid are spurned, don’t add to your friend’s already trying situation with offended guilt or other emotional trauma. Simply remain quietly and positively available for them, regardless of their initial reactions.
Eventually, the time will come to begin encouraging and pointing them in a positive direction again, and chances are, if you handled it the right way, you’ll be amply thanked for your support once all is said and done.