How To Help A Friend

How can you help a friend who's going through a rough time? How can you be a better friend? This post is full of friendship tips for anyone who knows someone who's struggling.

Are there rules for how to help a friend? Is there a one-size-fits all manual for when your friend has a health crisis, a break up, a tragedy in the family?

Not really. But there are a something any of us can do to help a friend in any tough situation. Amy tells us what we can do.

Let’s say your life is awesome, but a friend is struggling. Here’s what I would have really, really wanted from a friend during my struggles.

How to help a friend

1. Ask THEM what’s going on

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING irritated, hurt, and infuriated me more than friends who had heard things, thought they knew what was happening, had seen my social media or talked to my ex and assumed they were aware of the situation. Respect your friend enough to ask them what’s really happening, from their point of view.

2. LISTEN

Don’t talk. Don’t assume you know how they’re feeling. Ask them, and then be prepared to listen. If they cry, let them. If they’re pissed, let them be pissed. But above all, just be there to hear what they are saying.

3. Don’t walk on eggshells

It hurt me so deeply when I found out that other friends were dealing with their own serious stuff but didn’t tell me because they were afraid I couldn’t handle it. Being left out of the loop was hard, and no one wants to feel as if their friends view them as weak. There’s a time and a place.
Ask your struggling friend when you can talk with them and let them know that you have something serious you want to share. Then, share, be honest and let them help you to the best of their current ability.

4. Be thoughtful

The morning my ex moved out, two girlfriends called me, picked me up and took me to the beach. Sure, it was freezing cold.  But we went for the day, drove around, read books under blankets, took pictures, looked at a lighthouse and ate junk food.
It was one of my best experiences ever, and it meant so much that they took time out of their schedule to get me away from something that was obviously going to be upsetting for me. My mom is one of the most thoughtful people I know and she would get me treats, take me to lunch or do other things just to spoil me. Look for opportunities to be encouraging and then do it.

5. Have grace

I was an exceptionally crappy friend for awhile—very bitter, angry and sad and not too fun to be around. Instead of slamming your friend, confronting them on their behavior or ignoring them, try to have patience. Set boundaries, and if they’re mean and hurtful regularly, call them on it.
But if they don’t want to go to the movies one night or they snap at you, give them a break. If they cry, have too much wine or act foolishly, don’t appear shocked or annoyed. Roll with it, and extend kindness.

6. Keep your mouth shut

I know it’s kind of a good rule of thumb to have anyway, but I really, really hated it when I’d share something with Girl A, only to have Girl B say they’d already heard what I was going to share. Even worse, private information is often accidentally revealed.
Keep the drama to a minimum, and just be quiet. Also, avoid spreading what’s going on. I spent so much time crying over the fact that people I loved and trusted were telling everyone who’d listen that I was divorcing. I think that most crisis’ are private.
I didn’t want everyone knowing right away and some people took it upon themselves to share it. Remember, you never know what path you’ll be walking in life. It could be you having a hard time next. Think about how you’d feel if YOU were the subject of the gossip train. Feels pretty crappy.

7. Don’t judge

One of the hardest things I dealt with were friends who were “anti-divorce” or felt that I wasn’t doing my best at things. Other friends judged the fact that I dated in a time frame that felt soon to them.
I think the general rule is to not offer unsolicited advice. And unless your friend is doing something to hurt themselves or someone else, than don’t judge.
Everyone goes a little crazy during a tough time. What I appreciated most were those friends who would accompany me to the bar, listen to the stories of the weirdos I dated and hear me out when I needed to talk about my life without feeling like my every move was being analyzed and chastised silently.

8. Don’t be Mary Sunshine OR one-up them

The two responses I hated most: “It’s not so bad! At least you have your health!” and “Oh, you think your life is hard? One time, I had to go through ________________!”
Let me have my pity party. I know I have my health. I know we’ve all had our bad times. But let me have my time, sans false cheer and competition. If I’m trusting you enough to talk, I want to talk. Selfish? Maybe. Honest? You bet.
I realize this contradicts suggestion #3, but I think we all know the difference between sharing what’s going on and trying to compete for “who’s life is the worst.” Be sensitive.

9. Point to the good

I had many people—my parents, my grandparents, and my closest friends, hug me and assure me that it really would be okay. They were right, of course. Don’t be fake about it, but remind them to have perspective and that yep, it’s all gonna be fine.

How do you help your friends when they’re going through a rough time? What would you like people to do for you?

P.S. 14 sweet ways to show your friends you love them.

photos by evan kirby and Karina Carvalho // cc

26 Comments

Magatha-May

My biggest thing is that a friend will let me mope and rant for a little while. I usually realise very quickly what I'm doing and stop it myself but I have to be able to get that first little rant over and done with without judgment.

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The Naked Redhead

Perfect, perfect, perfect advice. I've been through a divorce myself, and the friends who did these things are the friends I still have in my life today. Because of their example, I've been able to (try) to be that same kind of friend to others.

Thanks!

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Gaby

This is awesome, really useful even when someone is a victim of verbal, psychological or/and physical abuse.

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Thea

Great great post! Several of my friends are experiencing difficult things these days, and I always feel like a crappy person for not knowing how to truly help them. So thanks for a very helful post! 🙂

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Kelsi

As someone going through a divorce, I can say with confidence how joyful and blessed I feel to have a fantastic support group of family, friends, colleagues, congregation members, and co-workers. Every little kind word or gesture is much appreciated. I am not one who walks around feeling sorry for myself because this bad thing is happening to me, but having an optimistic outlook is that much easier because my loved ones are so amazing.

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Kate

This is really fantastic advice! I think that the key in all of these points is that to be a friend to someone in a difficult time you need to remember that it is not about you. Just being there with them, for them, letting it all be about them for a little while, can make a world of difference.

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Karen

Amazing advice. I'm so incredibly lucky that I have a friend who knows exactly what to do and who does it.

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The Writing Goddess

Great article!

One note to the idea of listen – something I have suggested to friends who tend to "help" (jump right in with advice/) is to learn to ASK, first: "What is it you're looking for right now? Are you looking for advice, or do you just need to vent?"

Nothing is so frustrating as somebody giving solutions (aka telling you what you should do – or should have done) when you just need to vent.

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Rachael

My best friend is at the beginning stages of a divorce, so I've been asking myself in the last few weeks how I can be the friend she needs right now, when I think she doesn't know herself. She lives five hours away, so we've been on the phone a lot! These suggestions are great reminders. Thanks!

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Anonymous

A dear friend of mine died suddenly a month ago today. Needless to say, I've been going through an extraordinarily tough time lately.

My friends exemplify everything one SHOULD do in such a situation.

A couple of friends greeted me at the airport when I returned from the out-of-town funeral. Some friends took me out for lunch or cooked me dinner, because they suspected (rightly) I wasn't eating properly. One friend bought me seeds because she knows I love gardening (plus it's a lovely, life-affirming symbol). I've received countless phone calls and emails asking how I'm doing.

It's the little, practical things that really make a difference, really make you feel loved.

Sometimes all you need is to know you're in someone's thoughts.

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Sora

This may be a personal thing, and I suppose it depends on the nature of the issue, but I find that I don't like it when someone asks me, "So how are you doing with…?"

I prefer to be in control of when and with whom I discuss my personal problems, so I don't like others to bring it up. Usually when they do, I either give a short, meaningless answer or, for really close friends, I just say, "Let's talk about something else." Most of my friends have gotten the idea and just don't ask.

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Sam

So many great points made in your post especially about grace. It is what really taught me how to be a better person and a much better friend.

@Anonymous: I'm sorry about your friend, but I'm glad that you had such an amazing support system around you when you needed it the most.

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Anna

Such good timing for this post. I have a friend/coworker who is going through a very messy breakup. This was a nice reminder how to help.

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Steph Jinx

Maybe I should show my friends this.

Also, Danielle, maybe we should be friends 😛

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meghana

I dont comment often enough but your blog has helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life and this post is as if you are in my head!!One of my favourite ones is listen!!You can figure it out yourself, you just need to be listened to and have some empathy…thank you sarah von for helping me again in a dark moment…

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jessica

I went through a rough patch a few years ago and found out exactly who my true friends were. Too many people told me to "get over it" and stop crying. One friend who I'd just recently met, was the most supportive and still is. She let me get drunk, cry, scream and I even remember pulling her hair that night because I was just couldn't control my emotions. And the best part was, she didn't tell me to get over it. She let me cry and she held me, stroked my hair and didn't talk that entire time. It was the best thing that someone did for me then!

I was more people were like her!

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RainyB

I'm currently going through a divorce and I don't know how I would have made it through some of the really awful days I've had without the love and support of my friend Liz. She does everything on this list and then some. You never forget a kindness when you're going through something like this and I'll always be grateful to her. xoxo

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Rosey Rebecca

Thanks for this post and the really great advice.

The 'Don't Walk on Eggshells' one is so true. I had a lot of friends do this when my father died. I had to literally say, 'if I'm ok talking about it, please don't feel awkward talking about it with me because it makes me feeling I'm making you uncomfortable.'

Reply

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