It can be a very difficult to watch someone you love get sucked in by their gremlins. Sadness becomes their new best friend and all you want to do is 'fix' it.
When you are concerned about a friend, it is easy to want to fix their problem. Nevertheless, the most important thing you can do - which is sometimes the hardest thing - is listen respectfully and mindfully.
What do you feel like when you are sad? For me, I feel guilt and shame - like I shouldn't feel sad because I have a good life. I struggle trying to make decisions and I withdraw into myself. My desire to talk comes in waves. Sometimes I clam up. Other times the flood gates open and I am desperate to talk to someone, anyone!
When I muster up enough courage (or maybe it's simply a desire) to talk about what has upset me, the worst thing that can happen is a friend tries to fix me by offering unsolicited advice or tries to talk me out of my feelings.
When I am feeling sad and when I am ready to talk, I crave a safe and judgement free space where I can let my feelings in, and let them out.
During my time as a life coach, friend, sister, fiancee, confidant and human I have learned so much about what to do when your friend is sad. So, here are four things I've learned that might help you to help a friend who is feeling sad.
LISTEN RESPECTFULLY AND MINDFULLY
When our friends are feeling down, many of us go into "fix it" mode. We want to be the one to offer the best advice and make all of their pain go away (I've even seen people unwittingly compete to give the best advice). However, the most important thing you can do is listen. Listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart.
Help your friend by holding a safe, judgement free space so she can talk and feel heard.
I have learned that repeating or affirming how your friend is feeing sends an important message that her feelings are valued and important.
Don’t prepare your response or think about what you’re going to say back. Affirm their feelings and by doing so you are showing them that they are valued and important.
LET THEM DO THE TALKING
Do not put pressure on your friend to talk if she isn't ready, and be sensitive to signs that your friend is ready to talk. Talking helps people makes sense of their world but talking is different for introverts and extroverts. If your best friend is an extrovert and likes to talk, then let them talk. Say things that make her feel loved and safe.
- You are not alone.
- You are important to me.
- I am always here for you.
If your friend is a little more introverted and finds it harder to externalise her inner dialogue , you can do or say some of the following
- Do not interrupt.
- Always acknowledge even the most subtle of messages so she doesn't lose confidence.
- Don’t be afraid of long, paused silences.
- Respect their introversion. Don’t force them into a conversation they are not ready for.
- Be patient.
- An introvert’s energy is limited so tread softly.
- Say all the things you would say to your extroverted friend and then sit back and wait.
DON'T MINIMISE OR TALK THEM OUT OF THEIR FEELINGS
I know you want to make the 'bad feelings' go away but it's completely healthy and normal to be sad, angry or anxious. These feelings need to be expressed one way or another so avoid saying things that might minimise, or talk them out of their feelings. Avoid saying something like try not be so sad, just try! So you are sad – you are always sad these days. Stop feeling sorry for your self. Life is not fair, no one ever said life was fair.
When a feeling can't be expressed outwardly it can often be internalised - bottled up - which can make someone feel worse.
LOOK AFTER YOURSELF TOO
As committed you are to helping your friend, it is imperative that you look after yourself as well. As counter intuitive as this may sound supporting someone (no matter how much you love them) can be challenging and draining.
For every hour you spend with your friend take 10-20 minutes out for yourself and your own self-care. Self-care is not about self indulgence but rather self-preservation.
No matter how much you love your friend and how much you want to be there for her when she is sad you can’t water a plant with a leaking watering can or drive a car with no petrol. Protect yourself. You need to refuel, reenergise and rejuvenate as often possible.
For further information on how you can talk to someone you are worried about, please contact The Samaritans.
Sarah is a life coach and motivational speaker. As the co-founder of The Better Life Project and creator of L-Schoo, she’s the “go to” life coach for anyone feeling stuck in a rut, lacking in confidence or struggling with low self-esteem or body image. Sarah offers life coaching and mentoring services and works with clients in person in Dublin, Ireland and over Skype around the world.