“As much as I would like to help my friend through this crisis, I’ll probably just make it worse.” This is what I would tell myself years ago. I felt very uncomfortable about reaching out to my friends who were experiencing a rough patch in life. It was not because I didn’t care. It was more about a lack of confidence in my ability to be truly helpful.
Then I went through a series of crises of my own that made me aware of what I needed from friends and family to weather those storms. I learned that just the presence of a friend provided a great deal of relief. So I returned the favor and showed up for my friends and family who were struggling.
Through applying the skills of those who helped me, through the wisdom of relationship experts, and through practice, I have come up with five very effective ways to help a friend or family member through tough times.
- Become aware of the signs of crisis. An article in the American Psychological Association says that one of the most common signs of an emotional crisis is a friend of family member’s abrupt change in behavior. This includes: neglect of personal hygiene, pronounced changes in mood, weight gain or loss, isolation, and an upsurge in negativity.
- Reach out. Just a phone call or a visit—anything that makes you present for another—can work wonders. Simply saying, “You don’t seem to be yourself lately, do you want to talk?” is a great way to get the other person to open up.
- Listen rather than fix. This is especially difficult for males since we have been socialized to fix things. The idea here is to let the person empty his or her heart. Even if it is obvious to us that the person’s suffering is due to misconceptions or misperceptions, let the person vent. Listen and avoid judging or interrupting. Sometime later, if the person is interested, you can help with the distorted thinking.
- Offer to help with routine tasks. Although this may not seem to be especially helpful in relieving another’s distress, it is often these very tangible gestures that send the message that you really care. Things like preparing a meal, running errands for the person, or mowing the lawn all reduce another’s suffering.
- Be patient. You may need to hear the person’s story again and again. It takes time to clear the emotional pipes. If the clouds have not passed in a few weeks, sit down with that person and kindly suggest professional help. Providing your friend of family member with the phone number of an established professional can eliminate one obstacle to treatment.
If you suspect that a loved one is suffering or in crisis, don’t hesitate to reach out. By integrating these simple skills, you can be a healing presence for that person. It’s in simple gestures that your deep caring is expressed. As spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
What do you do to help a friend in crisis? Please share what you have found to be really effective so we can all become better able to help those in our lives who are suffering.