Believe it or not, it actually takes certain skills to be a good friend. By “good friends” I mean people who are supportive, empathetic and may even help you reflect on your life. For example I have clients who tell me that when they reach out to a friend for support they often hear comments like “ I went through the same thing but worse, so I’d rather have what you’re going through now.” This statement minimizes the other person’s feelings and they are less likely to reach out for support, as they may even feel more alone after this conversation.
If you struggle with how to respond to a friend calling you when they’re upset, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t change the topic to yourself. A lot of people think that it will help their friend to hear that you relate to their struggle but the truth is if you bring this up right away it can come across as self-centered. Instead, try asking open-ended questions, like “How are you feeling about all this?” When someone is calling you about something that happened they probably want to talk about how it makes them feel so make sure to give them the chance.
- Empathize. Say things like “Oh my God, that must be so hard”, or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” If the person is angry, get angry with them! Feel their emotions with them and express those emotions back. It can help this person feel better to have that comradely because they want to feel justified.
- Validate them. Think about your friend’s history and relate it to how they are feeling, saying things like “It totally makes sense that you would feel this way since the same thing happened to you last time, you must feel so hurt.” At this point you could also mention that you went through something similar and you remember how it made you feel.
As with any skill, being a good friend can be learned. Try practicing these tips the next time a friend, or someone who could become a friend, comes to you with a problem. You may find your friend circle expanding!