Why is it that, so often, we try and struggle on with our problems and keep them from those who are closest to us? We seem to believe that, by not including others in our issues, we are protecting them somehow.
But, in reality, this can have completely the opposite effect.
The shock you might feel when you are told by a friend that they have gone through some terrible time, without telling you, might make you feel hurt and ignored. But, it could also lead to feelings of distrust and that you are just not important enough in their lives to be included in their times of pain.
Your train of thought might be as follows:
- So, who did you confide in?
- Who did you feel could help you?
- Did you feel I couldn’t help?
- Did you feel I might judge you, so not provide the right support?
- Am I not important enough to you for you to value my opinion?
- I’m clearly not a close enough friend…
- I’m embarrassed that I was the last to know when I thought that we shared everything.
- And so on and so on.
This could all lead to you thinking that you won’t tell them anything that’s going on in your life either.
And then the friendship starts to break down.
So, while your friend thought they were protecting you and not boring you with their problems, all they were doing was building a wall between you.
This could have catastrophic results.
Let’s also think about how we feel when a friend does confide in us, chooses us to be the person to share in their problems and help support them through it.
It makes us feel wonderful.
We feel wanted, validated and useful.
Asking for help is a gift. And we should receive as a gift – cherish it but use it wisely.
We are there to support our friends or family, listen to them and help them work out what to do or how to deal with whatever it is that has happened.
We are not there to tell them what they should do or what we would do.
We cannot solve the problem for them, but we can help by listening and making a suggestion, if that is what they want. But mainly, we help by showing them that we will support them to get through it.
Of course, there are the friends who only ever contact you when they need something or when they are feeling down and need advice. We should all be wary of these friends as they can make you feel as if you are only of use when you can help them. This is a completely different scenario and their need for help is not a gift at all – they take advantage of your kind and empathetic nature!
Do people genuinely want to help us?
Often, we don’t ask for help as we assume the person won’t have the time to help us or won't want to. So, we take on much more than we need to and act as a martyr to the cause. This can be equally annoying for the people around us as they would love to help but they are not given the opportunity.
So, what’s the solution:
- If we don’t know how to help:
- In situations that are unknown to us, we sometimes don’t know how to help, so we decide to do nothing. For example, if one of our friends is the first person to have a baby in our circle and you have no idea what she might need, just ask. You might be surprised by the thing that she needs, craves even! It might be for you to look after her baby for half an hour while she has a bath or for you to bake her favourite cake or just purely to come to your house for a while to have a coffee while the baby sleeps in their pram.
- If a friend is grieving, ask whether they want to talk about it and what it is that they need from you. It could be that they want to be left alone to grieve but it could also be that they need company for distraction. You just don’t know until you ask.
- If you notice that your friend is behaving differently but keeps saying they are fine.
- Keep asking – “how are you”, “how are you, really?” Don’t just accept the first glib answer that they are fine.
- Open up the conversation – talk about yourself and how you are feeling and see if they respond with anything.
- If your friend does ask for help, clarify what it is that they would really like from you?
- Ask them to be clear in their request so you get it right.
- Receive their request for help as the gift it is!
4. If your friend only ever tells you about what has happened in their life, after the event:
- Ask yourself how you feel about it.
- Question them why they didn’t open up to you.
- Decide how you wish to move forward – do you accept that friendships can be complicated, and remember that every friendship has different boundaries and rules.
- You can't be there for everyone.
Most importantly, if you expect your friends to ask you for help, don’t forget that you must also do the same!
Remember, helping people who care about you to express how they feel, by showing them how they can help you, is a true gift.