One of the biggest regrets I have is that during my younger years I didn’t make more friends.
I had a lot of acquaintances, but when it came to close friends they were few and far between. Looking back, I know a lot of that was a result of my upbringing. I had, and continue to have, trust issues.
Even as a young child, it was always in the back of my mind that someone could take the sensitive information I confided to them and betray me. Even if I felt that was unlikely, I was still uncomfortable with the mere idea that someone possessed such information about me: it made me feel that they had some sort of power over me.
However, as I have gotten older, I have learned that we all need friends for both the good times and especially the bad times. We all experience the latter and no matter how strong we are or believe we are, we need support and that means being able to confide in them.
I learned this over a year ago when a series of unexpected events in my life all seemingly happened at once. (I won’t bore the reader with the details, but bar none it was the most challenging time I ever experienced in my lifetime.)
Three people were there for me for most of it—including one I expected—and I will be forever grateful for their support.
I learned many important things from the experience, but the most important was how to listen to a friend in need.
The steps are actually surprisingly simple and easy.
Therefore, I share these not just because I hope that one day I can be there for my friends when they are in of support, but also so that others may benefit from these as well the next time they encounter a friend in need of someone to lean on.
1. Let them tell their story in their own time without prompting them and asking as few questions as possible when they are talking.
People in need often have stories to share with sensitive details or what they view as major revelations. Sometimes these stories are quite long and complicated. They may tell their stories in spurts or go off-tangent.
In general, try to go with what they say rather than pump them for details or ask them to explain things in a linear fashion. For the person telling their story, just getting it out may be the hardest part. Sometimes, we need clarity on some things in order to make sense of what we are being told, but most of the time, it can wait until after the person has finished their story.
2. Show empathy.
Empathy is often confused with sympathy, but they are actually two different things. Not sure about the difference? The video below is one of the best things I have ever found in way of an explanation:
3. Don’t give advice unless they ask for it or unless we ask if it is okay.
This is a hard one for most people. Often we want to “fix” a problem when we encounter it. Sometimes we even feel if someone is sharing a problem with us, then it is our job to solve it.
In a nutshell, though, it isn’t.
When I was confiding to my friends, I wasn’t expecting them to come up with a solution to my various problems. Instead, I just wanted to be heard. Being heard knowing that the other person cared was just as good if not better than had they come up with a solution.
In conclusion, despite how simple and straightforward the above tips may appear to be, it’s easy to forget these things when we are confronted by a friend needing support and want desperately to be there for them.
Based on my own experience of the past year, sometimes the best and most helpful thing we can do is just listen to them. While it may seem like something quite small, it can mean the world to the person on the receiving end.
As I learned, talk isn’t cheap. Indeed, in some cases, it can save lives or at least help to rebuild them.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Lisa Sjolund
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