When you have a friend who is in crisis, it is natural to want to swoop in and tell her everything she needs to do to make it all better. Here’s why that’s the last thing you want to do…
Part of being human is the fact that we all go through ups and downs in life, my Butterfly.
We (especially those of us with social anxiety) have good days, we have bad days.
Some bad days turn into rough patches – which are often followed by patches of amazing happiness and luck.
The ups and downs of life are something we all go through.
Sometimes however, people DO go through a crisis, and when they do, having a support network of friends is key.
Note I said “Support network” there, not “fix-it squad”.
It’s natural when you see a friend who is having a tough time and you feel that you know the answer – to want to go in there and fix it all up for her.
This is especially true if you are witnessing her making the same mistakes over and over again, seemingly without learning anything from the past.
You might see a lot of yourself in this friend – you may even have found yourself in a similar position as her in the past, and have found your way out of it.
You may feel you have ALL the answers to quickly and easily fix her problem, but again I urge you, my Butterfly:
Take a step back.
Respect that this is your friend’s life.
Think – as a friend who is helping this person through her crisis, what does SHE need from you, right now?
This is a different question from asking yourself ‘What do I think she needs right now?”
I’ll say it again:
What does SHE need from you right now?
In case you’re having trouble coming up with the answer to that question, here are some hints:
She needs you to just be there.
Sometimes, your silent presence will be enough.
Simply going to her, holding her hand, and allowing her to talk/cry/ignore you is all she will need. (See: How to comfort a friend)
People often avoid seeing a friend who is in crisis because they are worried that they won’t know what to say.
Or – many people have the opposite problem, where they feel they know EXACTLY what needs to be said – but often it is a statement of the obvious and really does very little to help or comfort a friend who is processing emotions.
And that’s the key thing to remember here:
Your friend in crisis is processing a LOT of emotions, and is therefore unable to think clearly.
So speaking “sense” to her is unlikely to have the desired effect.
Logically, she knows what she needs to do.
It’s just that her mind and her emotions aren’t currently aligning, which is causing her a lot of indecision and confusion.
She will have trouble asking for help.
Often, a friend in crisis will feel incredibly isolated and alone.
She will have tons of people who will say “Let me know if you need anything” – but ‘anything’ is often interpreted as ‘nothing’.
Your friend can’t think straight – how is she going to know what she needs?
This is where you will need to put your psychic hat on.
Just think: What is she likely to need?
Will she need help taking the kids to school/picking them up?
Bread and milk from the store?
What sort of daily, administrative help will she need while she’s getting back on her feet after her crisis?
It’s often the really, really basic stuff that help the most.
As long as you’re not going in there and taking everything over against her wishes, there’s very little you can do wrong.
Of course, it’s natural to worry that you’ll make things worse by saying the wrong thing.
So many people stick to saying nothing because they fear they will trigger something in their vulnerable friend.
As someone who has been in both places (being the friend in crisis, and being the friend comforting the friend in crisis) let me say this:
It’s much better to name the elephant in the room, even if it’s a statement of the obvious.
Because naming the elephant in the room shows validation for what your friend is going through.
It shows empathy. It shows that you understand.
And even if you’ve said it a million times over – simply giving words to what has happened to your friend to put her in crisis (without judgment or giving more emotion to the situation) will give your friend a lot of comfort that what she is going through is valid, and she has a right to feel like she does.
You might also worry that you don’t have what she needs, my Butterfly.
Again, this is a natural feeling for someone who is comforting a friend in crisis.
You can feel like either your friend wants too much from you, or that you don’t have the support YOU need to provide the support SHE needs.
This is actually very common.
If you feel that a friend is becoming too reliant on you, or that she is taking your support for granted, remember:
Your own needs have to come first.
And nobody is going to stand up for your needs unless you do.
This actually happened in my own life:
A friend discovered she had breast cancer, and she needed an emergency mastectomy.
Within my group of friends, we knew she needed help with her child – a young boy with special needs, and that she would also need help with daily tasks and housework.
Her husband studied with my husband, but he had the option of reducing his study load in order to support his wife, which he opted not to do.
I picked her up from the hospital and drove her home, made her some lunch and got her into bed.
I’d only just had my baby, so I had my own hands full with my kids, household etc.
I also lived on the other side of the city – it took about 45 minutes to get to her house.
Over the next few months, she called at various times for me to go over there.
I understood that she was going through a tough time. But she was becoming more demanding.
I was happy to go there once a week, bring over some grocery items, make her some lunch, tidy her kitchen, put on a load of washing and hang it out, and keep her company.
But she was wanting me to go over there and scrub her shower.
My own shower needed scrubbing.
So I said no.
I’d heard that she was getting into a pattern of keeping our other friends at her house until after midnight looking after her child, and getting agitated when they left to go home and look after their own children.
Here’s the plain truth, my Butterfly:
You can help a friend with all you have.
But you need to have it yourself first, in order to give.
You cannot be giving water from an empty well.
It’s impossible – it leads to burnout, and TWO sick people.
Always look after your own needs first and foremost.
YOU are your first priority.
You can make short-term sacrifices, as long as there is a light at the end of the tunnel that shows things returning to normal within a fixed period of time.
You can make amendments to your own life, such as offering your friend a place to stay, so that she can be near to you and you can still attend to your own responsibilities.
But that’s the thing – your responsibilities belong to YOU. At the end of the day, YOU are responsible for ensuring the things in our life are done.
And your friend’s responsibilities belong to HER. Even if she is unable to carry out the things she would normally do, it is still HER responsibility to ensure they are done – or to set up reasonable levels of support.
But if her demands become too much, or begin to overstep into you needing to make large sacrifices out of your own life to put her FIRST –
That is out of balance, and needs to be adjusted.
Your life – your own responsibilities – must come first.
And there is a risk that the line between what is YOUR responsibility, can become muddied with what is HER responsibility – especially if you temporarily take on some of her responsibilities in the short term to help her along.
Remember that there is a difference between sharing a load for someone in the short-term while she grieves, or heals, or makes necessary adjustments to her life, but it’s quite a different thing altogether to take on roles for other people, and assuming the resulting responsibility.
SOME responsibility, in the short-term is of course necessary.
And short-term responsibility sometimes involves making a sacrifice to your own life in order to keep two ships sailing.
BUT – there is a massive difference between doing some legwork here and there in the short-term to help a friend out, and being saddled with making long-term decisions and commitments because your friend refuses to do so.
No matter how desolate your friend is, she is still responsible for the life she has created.
She should be showing intention to re-engage with her responsibilities as soon as she is able to.
She should be making plans to move her responsibilities to another person if she will be unable to maintain them in the long-term.
Her arrangements should be transparent and solid- not trying to shift long-term responsibility under the radar.
There is a very big difference between helping a friend in crisis, and taking over her whole life.
Of course, you would never take over her life knowingly, or without her permission.
But it’s easy, during times of personal catastrophe, for the lines of responsibility to become blurred, and for a drama triangle to emerge.
What’s a drama triangle?
Well, that’s a story for another day.
For now, just let me say that helping out a friend in crisis is a noble act.
But you must always help from a place of abundance – your own well must be full first.
Love + light