5 Ways To Support A Friend In Crisis.
When we're younger, the notion of friendship seems easy. To the very young, it mostly consists of playing in the same area and learning to share toys. As we get a little older, connections deepen, but can remain stubbornly fickle. A best friend one day can be an enemy as quickly as the words "You're not my friend, anymore!" are uttered. After a short cooling off period, however, amends may be made and the relationship resumes.
As we age, though, our affiliations can take on much more nuance and significance as the rites of adulthood bring both unbridled joy and tremendous pain.
It is in this space that I've noticed many of us simply do not know how to be a friend to someone in crisis. Of course, the sad irony is that hard times are precisely when a kind ear is most needed but often denied, in favor of an insincere platitude ("Everything happens for a reason"), ill-timed appeals for logic ("Two sides to every story") or an immediate distancing from the person altogether ("It's too messy and I shouldn't get involved").
Not only have I seen this sad turn-of-events play out, but I've been on the receiving end. Both scenarios are truly horrible. I've observed that nothing really brings to light who your friends are like going through something unpleasant. When one's very presence reminds folks of their own mortality, the grinning facades quickly fall away and reveal the true nature beneath.
And yet, there is hope. Oftentimes, some well-meaning and sincere people simply do not know what to do and could use a little nudge in the right direction. After much thought, prayer, and traumatic personal experience, I've come up with this short, but potent list of uncomplicated ways to offer love and support without judgment.
I swear this is the simplest step and somehow, it is the one humans tend to screw up the most. To someone who has been hurt and has finally found the courage to share their trauma, a genuine response of "I believe you" means everything. Conversely, questioning their validity can have devastating effects.
2. Commit to Being Uncomfortable.
Sit with your friend in this crappy circumstance and acknowledge that it blows. Let her weep and cuss. Let him yell, scream, lament. As a Christian, I can say that we are notoriously bad at allowing the space for pain. In our circles, there seems to be a very short window for lamentation before we are hurriedly pressured toward grace, forgiveness, and healing. Of course, we all want those things, but acknowledging the reality of agony is an invaluable part of the restoration process. It cannot be rushed or skipped over; that will only delay the inevitable. Do you feel awkward? Deal with it. Ill at ease? So, what. If you're committed to being there, then be all there. Right now, it is not about you. This is your opportunity to think of someone other than yourself.
For the love of all things holy, do not reach for the usual crappy, canned responses that are nothing more than meaningless verbal filler. Stop it. Stop it, right now. I know we've all done it at least once, but let's collectively decide to do better now that we know better. If you need to do something, offer a hug or squeeze of the hand (if appropriate and consensual) instead. Offer to entertain the kids or wash the dishes or cook/procure a meal. Actions can absolutely speak louder—and more sincerely—than words. When in doubt, silence is perfectly valid. It's an option more people should utilize, honestly.
4. Stop Playing Devil's Advocate.
This one is so awful, I'm gobsmacked that it needs to be mentioned. And yet, I keep seeing some version of "gotta hear both sides" applied to situations where the issue of right and wrong is crystal clear. I believe we often engage in this behavior because we're hoping to point to something the victim did in order to make sense of the trauma and protect ourselves from the knowledge that bad things happen to innocent people. The world can be an awful, tragic place, and the human experience can be excruciating; this is a sobering and heavy reality. However, that weight should not be put on the person who is hurting! It is not their job to convince you of anything or ease your discomfort. If you are having trouble focusing on your pal's needs, consider giving support from a distance in a different capacity.
5. Keep Checking In.
I tend to disengage when I'm going through hard times, but I'm always grateful to those who text or call to ask how I am. And if they manage to get me out of the house and into the fresh air? That is genuine love and affection in action. Unless the person has specifically asked for no contact, unobtrusively check in from time to time, just to show you care. It may not seem like the messages are getting through, but I promise they are.
There are infinite ways to be a good friend, but I strongly believe the five points above are universal. Life is difficult and full of ups and downs. Sometimes it helps to share the burden and weather the storm together.
If you have any additional suggestions or tips, please don't hesitate to comment below for the benefit of everyone who reads this post.