Lean on Me: How to Be a Good Friend When Life Hits Her Hard

It's easy to be a friend during the good times, but when times are tough, she actually needs you more than ever. Here's how to be the pal she needs by her side.

 

Ask her what she needs

Even if you don’t think there’s anything you could do, the offer means a lot.

“This is a fantastic way to try to help,” says Jessica LeRoy, psychotherapist and founder of Center for the Psychology of Women. “You may be clueless yourself as to how to help her, and you may not be able to think of what she actually needs. So by simply asking, it allows her to tell you what she needs.”  

Listen instead of talking

Instead of giving her a pep talk, lend an ear and let her vent.

“A lot of times people just need to talk it out,” says LeRoy. “They usually know what they need to do and having yet another person tell them what do it is not helpful. So listen and you might be doing more than you think.”

Check in periodically

Give her space but don’t disappear from her life.

“Make sure you check in,” says LeRoy. “Even if she doesn’t get back to you right away or at all, know that she did receive your message and when she does come around she’ll be thankful for that.”

Don’t compare

Try not to equate her situation with something you’ve gone through as she might take it the wrong way.

“Try to be understanding of her situation and relate to it, but don’t compare it to a situation you have had,” says LeRoy. “Again, just listen and be there for her.”

Bring her a dish

Even if you’re a terrible cook, a homemade dish is a sign of comfort no matter what she is going through.

“It shows you went out of your way and that you care enough for her to do something like that,” says LeRoy. “She will appreciate the effort.”

Don’t try to “fix”

She most likely doesn’t need you to step in and try to solve her problem for her.

“Stepping in too quickly to try to ‘fix’ a problem sends the message that you don’t have confidence that your friend is capable of handling the situation,” Barbara Neitlich, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist. “More often than not, this can invoke a feeling of powerlessness on your friend’s behalf because she may feel you are trying to take over, rather than simply be an empathic confidant.”  

Let her benefit from your positive mood

When she’s ready, let her look to you for cheering up.

“One of the best ways to help a friend in a time of need is to maintain a positive, cheerful attitude,” says Neitlich. “Many feel that they need to become as sad, angry or frustrated as their friend in order to show that they understand how they are feeling. Actually, the opposite is true. Two people feeling down and out have a much more difficult time of working their way out of a funk than if one person is down and the other can maintain a positive attitude. The choice to stay positive really makes the most challenging situations easier to cope with.”

Give her distractions when she’s ready

You can be the one to take her to a movie or involve her in some project you’re working on.

“By being the one who is offering her positive distractions not only are you helping your friend out of the rut, you are strengthening your friendship at a time when she feels a great sense of vulnerability,” says Neitlich. “Engaging a friend in an activity that is distracting really helps in allowing her some time to disengage a bit from a difficult time and engage in something that’s productive and enjoyable.”

Make her rally

If enough time has passed and she’s still wallowing, try giving her a gentle push.

“By all means wallowing is part of the process when life hands you a raw deal,” says Neitlich. “However, don’t allow your friend to sink like the Titanic! By giving her a gentle push in a positive direction you are showing her that you believe in her ability to move through this difficult time.”  

Hug it out

Don’t underestimate the power of physical contact.

“We are so distracted these days with texting, IM’ing etc. that we often forget how much we need (and want) physical contact,” says Neitlich. “Sometimes words are not necessary when your friend is going through a tough time and just simply pulling her in for a hug can make them feel safe, calm, understood and contained. Research has shown that hugging boosts brain chemicals such as oxytocin and serotonin, elevating one’s mood and creating a sense of well-being.”

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