Therapy Blog

Emotional First Aid for Friends

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We’ve all had a friend come to us for support where we weren’t exactly sure what to say or do. We could tell they are hurting, but we just didn’t know how to fix it.  Sometimes we do know just what to do or say to help, but for those times that we don’t, here are a few suggestions and things to consider:

  • Remember, very often, our friends are not looking for us to ‘fix’ anything. . . they are just looking for a friendly shoulder to lean on. Most often, it’s enough to just listen and validate how they’re feeling:
    • “Dang, Jane, that really sucks. I cannot believe Donna hit on your boyfriend like that. That’s just wrong.”
    • “I’m so sorry to hear that; sometimes life just sucks. Want to talk about it, or just go to the park for a bit and get away from it for a little while?”
  • When you are looking to say something, try to avoid “siding with the enemy”:
    • DON’T do this: “I’m sorry your boss fired you, but you do kind of suck as an employee. . . maybe you should listen to her and try to do better.”
    • While possibly sound advice, the timing and phrasing could be better.
  • See if you can relate to them without completely changing the focus of the conversation onto yourself:
    • “I remember when I got canned: I was furious because I did exactly what the boss wanted me to do. You’re a smart gal, you’ll land on your feet, but it’s really obnoxious that your boss didn’t even give you a heads up about what to work on before firing you.”
  • There are times where overt advice is called for, usually when it is requested. Know who you are talking to and package your message accordingly. You may need to be rather direct, but that’ll do no good if you’re too abrasive about it to somebody that is very sensitive to that kind of thing.
  • Look for “green light, yellow light, red light.” That’ll help you know when to stop what you are doing and go in a different direction. If you aren’t sure, just ask.
  • Remember, when appropriate humor can really smooth the way. Being able to see the absurdity of a really bad day can help.
  • Remember, it’s not your job to fix it. Besides, if you fix it for them, you may be depriving your friend of learning how to manage adversity for themselves. Friends are supportive, not chronic fixers.
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