5 Ways to Help a Friend or Loved One Who Needs Emotional Support
There's the classic scene in Sex and the City (season 2, episode 13 "Games People Play") when Carrie is obsessively dissecting her breakup with Big and her friends finally convince her to talk to someone who is not them:
Carrie: I don't need professional help. I've got you guys.
Miranda: For about another ten minutes. Then we're cutting you off, cold turkey.
Carrie: Hey, I don't need therapy. I need new friends.
Samantha: Look, we're as fucked up as you are. It's like the blind leading the blind.
Charlotte: Sometimes it helps to talk to somebody who's objective.
We've all been there, trying to console a friend — through some kind of loss or roadblock — yet we feel ill-equipped to help them through it (um, because most likely we are).
In this week's Teach Me Something New! podcast, Brit and Anj talk to psychotherapist and journalist Lori Gottlieb, author of the New York Times bestseller Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and advice columnist for The Atlantic, about common misconceptions around therapy, the many different types of therapy, and what you can expect from a therapy session.
She also explains the difference between idiot compassion, which is what most friends do (you're right! that's terrible!), and wise compassion, which is what therapists do. "We hold up a mirror and help you see something about yourself that maybe you haven't been willing or able to see and that's the part that's so important," says Gottlieb.
If a friend does come to you for emotional support, here are five ways you can show up:
Don't Try to Fix Their Problems: "A lot of times someone will come to us with something and we feel like we have to fix the problem, or we have to make them feel better in that moment," says Gottlieb. This is because, in part, we feel uncomfortable and want to support our friend by finding solutions so we all feel good again. Instead, ask them first what they want out of the conversation: "Do you want to just vent right now? Do you want to hug? Do you want me to help you talk this through?" "Do you want my honest opinion about this?" are some examples Gottlieb suggests.
Listen to What They Have to Say: "There are three words that help so much in any conversation, which is just 'tell me more'," says Gottlieb. "What it does is it helps them to hear their inner voice without us talking over it. And so they will learn something more about what they're trying to process with you and you will learn more about them as a person." This helps build a stronger connection with our friends and family, something we all need right now.
Let Them Know When You're Worried About Them: If you're feeling like you've really heard what they have to say but the problem may be bigger than anything you can handle, it might be time to suggest a professional. Start by expressing your love for them and how much you don't want to see them in distress. But that everyone needs coaches — in sports and in life — and therapy can help them build an emotional muscle that may need building. It's the ultimate self care.
Share Your Own Experience: If you've had a positive experience with therapy, you can talk to them about how it helped you work through any challenges. This doesn't need to go down the road of "preach" but just an example of how you can empathize with them since you were having a hard time too. And a type of therapy that helped you doesn't necessarily mean it's a type that will help them. It's a good idea to research what kind of therapy appeals to them.
Offer Help on Daily Tasks: If they need time to get through a loss or even make time for therapy, ask them if they need any help with anything from researching therapists to grocery shopping or taking their dog for a walk so they can find time to really address their issue. After all, that's what friends (and family) are for.Teach Me Something New! podcast for more gems from psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb.
- The 7 Stages You Go Through When Moving in With a Partner - Brit ... ›
- 8 Signs That Your Strongest Friend Needs Extra Support - Brit + Co ›
- How to Cope With a Loss of a Loved One Over the Holidays - Brit + Co ›
- 5 Reasons Why Having BFFs Keeps You Healthy - Brit + Co ›
- What Not to Say to Someone Who's Lost a Loved One - Brit + Co ›
- How to Support a Friend Through Any Hardship - Brit + Co ›
- How to Help a Friend Going Through a Divorce - Brit + Co ›
Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.