When our friends are down and come to us for support, sometimes, or just some of us, get this surge of… for the lack of a better word, joy. We justify that feeling by saying “I’m just so happy to get the opportunity to help.
No matter what we say to justify it, one thing is very clear – it’s odd. Your friend is down and out and burnt-out, and you’re happy because of something about you. Being joyful about an opportunity to help is not about them; it’s legitimately categorically about you. It’s about how we feel useful, worthy, valued, valuable, important, authoritative, and selected.
And, in that moment of our friend’s need, our mind goes to what would make us feel more useful, valuable, and impressive by trying to resolve the issue for them. We try to tell the friend solutions. We tell our friends to look on the bright side. This friend, clearly with autonomy and capability, probably has thought of everything you can come up with in 2 minutes. They have probably even tried everything. They might come to you seeking answers, but deep down they know you don’t have the answers. (if they get angry at you for not having the answer, it might be a displaced anger about the situation they are in. So we are not free to use it as our reason for offering solutions.)
So, what is the answer… what do we do when our friends come to us, looking for support, help, answers?
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buechener
We really listen to them. They are actually telling us what they want from us. Often, it is to be listened to, validated, supported, and act as a sounding board for their thoughts in coming up with their own solutions. But we can’t assume that either. We need to listen, really listen, to know what they are looking for.
Now, when we are really listening to someone and giving that person what they want, we are relinquishing control of the scene, of our friend, and of ourselves. This is extremely uncomfortable, or even threatening, for some people. All of us have at least a little bit of it, so we have to be aware of it. One of my close friends struggles with a strong affliction of it. It is my belief that she can’t handle the emotions for whatever reason. It’s just there is something preventing her from going there. My stories are usually cut off and changed to a conversation about an “object,” not about experience, after a sentence or so. It doesn’t make her evil or any less caring. It is that there are limits to all of us, and some of us this is the limit. In that case, many of us with this dilemma would switch the topic from our friend and their emotional distress to an object, such as a solution, a coping method, or an inspirational quote like “tomorrow is another day.”
We have to know these limits and choose to make that moment all about our friend. It takes courage. It takes strength. It takes great sacrifices. And we have to do it as a friend. If we can’t, if our limits are too great, we need to send them to another friend of theirs who can support them in that way if we really truly care about them.