How Can You Help a Friend?

The difference between a friendly acquaintance and an actual friend is that, in an actual friendship, you both stand ready to help the other.

Sometimes the help is physical, as in “Please, take me to the medical procedure.”

Other times it is emotional, as in “Please, listen to me as I describe my broken heart.”

We sometimes describe such help as “being there” for each other.

Some of us hesitate to ask for help from a friend.

However, a friend as described above would truly feel hurt, were we in need and we did not ask.

A good way to gauge who is such a friend is to ask yourself whether you would want to “be there” for the other person, if needed or even wanted.

Of course, if a friend fails a friend-in-need, it may threaten the friendship.

(An exception occurs when a friend is so dear as to have been elevated to “family” status, so that the friendship becomes unconditional).

As a result, when our friends call upon us, we want to help, both because we care and because we want to be good friends.  (Of course, we feel the same way about family members in need.)

Notice that I wrote that a friend might ask us to listen to the lament of a broken heart, which is very different from being able to fix that broken heart.

Indeed, there is a limit on what a friend can do.

First, a friend can offer high quality listening, which is sometimes called “active listening.”

You can achieve this if you ask yourself, “If I had to be 100 percent certain that I understand, how could I be absolutely sure?”

That internal question will prompt you either to paraphrase or to ask the other person to explain more about some part of his or her meaning.

Sometimes, this is all someone wants, because such careful listening is a rare treat and useful in itself.

Other times, your friend is asking for more help than this.

If so, you can ask open-ended questions that help people to clarify their thinking.  Examples include:

  • “What do you want to happen,” or “What do you want to happen in the circumstances as they are?”
  • “What have you been doing about it?” and maybe “Are you really doing that?”
  • “What else could you do?” and maybe “Anything else?”

This is most of what one can do in a friend/family relationship.

It is often plenty, but sometimes a person seems to be asking for more.

What happens next is important, because we are talking about a peer relationship, a connection between equals, and it is necessary to keep it that way.

Accordingly, you cannot move into an advice-giving mode, so you have two good choices:

  • You can offer to talk about yourself, for example, “I can’t know what you should do, but if you want I can tell you what I’ve done” (or what you have seen other people do).
  • When all of the above efforts are insufficient for the person, it is time to make a referral.  You can let the other person know, “This is all I can do as a friend, but there are people who can do more.”  Those people might be therapists, attorneys, psychopharmacologists (medical prescribers), or clergy, but they are not family/friends.

In this way, you can help your friend with love and care, yet avoid becoming part of the problem.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 7th, 2012 at 3:07 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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