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Help When Helping A Friend

I'm a person who often has friends come to them in times of distress, fear, anxiety, and general advice. As much as I love being there for them and providing my support, what are some things I should be careful for, and what are somethings I need to make sure I'm doing ?

For those people who come to their friends for help and support, what are some things you really appreciate them doing, and what are some things you wish they did / didn't do more often ?


General feedback, advice, experiences / stories are all welcome.


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

Hey @Anzelmo 

I think my first post on the forums was also about kinda the same thing. For me, it was particularly about how important it is to make sure you help yourself before you help others, the importance of self-care and knowing your limits. I personally also deal with a lot of things whether it be with family or friends, and I used to put so, so much more pressure on myself to be the strong one all the time and keep it together. What I realised towards the end of high school a few years back was that your mental health will take a hit too if you don't look after yourself first. After being a perfectionist, juggling finishing high school and dealing with a lot of difficult and heartbreaking situations, I found that I had developed anxiety when I finally allowed one of my closest teachers to come with me and get me a session with the school counsellor. It was then that it really clicked that I needed help too and that it was ok not to be strong all of the time. You need a break too! 


Something I've learnt while being a builder on these forums is that it is good to help others but instead of sounding like you are forcing things for them to do, ask more questions like "how does this feel?", "what kind of things are you already doing to help?", "what other methods do you think would be useful?". That way they feel supported, comforted and safe, rather than like they're just being told what to do.


What are some things you like to do in your spare time? What relaxes you? 


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

Hi @Anzelmo Smiley Happy


Firstly, can I just say how beautiful and wholesome it is that you're creating a thread to learn about how you can best support your friends. That's just so sweet and honestly just makes me really happy that people like you are out there!


Here's some things I've appreciated friends doing for me:

-still treating me like a friend during tough times. This has looked like still hanging out with me and initiating spending time together (because we're friends, not because of the tough time I'm in)

- asking sincerely what they can do to help when they are aware I'm very upset (and doing it if they can)

-listening and asking questions to understand the situation

- sharing what they would do in my situation (if they know), if I express not knowing what to do. But letting that just be an extra tidbit of information to help me consider my options and respecting my autonomy and decision making

-sharing if they've had similar experiences

-acknowledge and empathise with my feelings

-try and learn more about the thing I'm experiencing, especially asking for and going to sources of information I recommend


Some things I wish they hadn't done:

-started treating me like a patient/project/thing to be rescued

-making all of our interactions about the issue I'm having (kind of part of number 1)

-minimise my feelings, or trivialise the issue or make it sound like there's easy answers

-judge how I'm responding to challenges

-cross boundaries like informing other friends (or my uni or work) about my issues without my consent, or insisting I stay in more frequent contact with them than I want to (also part of number 1)

-discuss with friends how challenging being there is for me and painting themselves as a tragic hero ( in ways that got back to me)

-avoided me when I was struggling

-were really pushy with their advice


That's all I can think of for now, good luck being there for your friends! And really, thanks so much for being such a wonderful person Heart


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

Sorry for the double post I just remembered something I wanted to add:


Another thing I appreciate is when as an overall theme in the friendship they're seeking support from me when they need it too. I know it's hard for (well... maybe everyone actually) to ask for support and some more so than others, but I feel like it really strengthens trust and connection and normalises offering and seeking support in the relationship.


Also to elaborate on the point 'acknowledge and empathise with my feelings'... I'm assuming I'm getting the impression it's genuine (which is largely based on whether the rest of what they're doing fits more into list one or two). What I pictured when I wrote this was a high school friend suddenly shocked and angry on my behalf after hearing me out and saying 'WAIT. They did WHAT?!?!?' (Not that you have to be angry, but them showing they were emotionally invested and on my side was really touching). Other times (also in high school- I think this might come really naturally to a lot of teenage girls for their friends?) this looked like me cautiously revealing something that was really hurting me, followed by a moment of quiet understanding where the penny dropped and I swear I could feel/see their heart break for me a bit, before a few gentle and clumsy words where the words themselves didn't matter because everything else was firmly pronouncing 'I care, I'm here'.


What I wasn't picturing was a friend ticking a lot of list 2 boxes speaking almost unnaturally calmly and sounding like a helpline saying 'It sounds like you've been feeling very ____ lately. That must be challenging for you.' For me that can seem empty, and sometimes make me feel belittled or embarrassed or frustrated or misunderstood.


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

I just want to say thank you for sharing your experiences. I think its important we know how to properly take care of our friends.


I enjoyed reading your response and for the most part I agree. Something you spoke about that I think needs to be highlighted for other people is that approach to helping your friends and accidentally making them feel like a patient / someone broken and in need of fixing.


Its key that people know what things to avoid in order to NOT do this, as like you said it can make the person who needs help feel embarrassed and belittled.This might make them close themselves off to you, and make the situation worse. As while Its good to take care of your friends and provide support, people also need to keep in mind especially in high school and forward that your friends are still adults and don't need to be patronized and treated like a child.


This all ties into why I made this post because its important that we ask others how they want to be helped on top of our own initiative.

Thanks for sharing, its definitely something that I want to be more aware of going forward.


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

I think its definitely important, especially in more serious cases to let a older/ more responsible adult into knowing your problem, and I hope you feel better about not being perfect all the time, and realizing that making mistakes are a good thing as we can learn from them and they are inevitable.


As for your question as to what I do in my spare time is to personally watch Netflix with my GF, talk to her, vent, and even play video games and shut my brain off for a while to take a break. Its really important to find ways to distract ones self in the form of hobbies and entertainment.


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

Hi @Anzelmo! Welcome to the forums!

I think you sound like such a caring person. Your friend is lucky to have you in their life. Smiley Happy
Helping a friend or family member can feel rewarding and help you grow closer to them, but it can also be exhausting and take a toll on you, especially if your own needs aren't being met.
I care for some of my family members and can relate to this topic so much. I'll definitely be taking on some of the suggestions in this thread myself. Smiley Happy
I think that it's great that you have been able to take a break and turn to your hobbies. I personally find scheduling breaks and time for my hobbies to be helpful.

These are some of the other things that have personally helped me:
- Not spending 24/7 with them, especially if they have symptoms or need care all the time. All of my family members I have cared for have been virtually housebound unless a family member went out with them and needed monitoring. So it is good for me to get out of the house, meet other people outside of the family (I personally didn't get much emotional support from other members of the family), do something nice for myself, etc.
- If you can, see if you can do something fun with the person you are helping, rather than making every interaction be about trying to solve a problem.
- Having a support network or someone to talk to when I was struggling to cope with the caring.
- Not neglecting physical or mental health issues. I find that uncontrolled health issues have tended to add to my stress and impacted on my ability to care for my family members. I don't think that you can look after someone without taking care of yourself first.
-  Resources such as websites, helplines and articles. There is a section on the ReachOut website about helping friends and another section about supporting family.

In terms of what has helped me when coming to someone for support, the main things that have helped me is the other person showing empathy and validating my feelings.
The things that haven't helped me are:
- Condescension from the other person or criticism/nagging about my life choices.
- Really bad advice that totally ignores everything that I have said, such as 'Having some friends will solve all your problems'. I personally really hate being a carer. Some people acted like I chose to be a carer, but for a long time I was unsupported and had no choice but to put my carees' needs before my own. What would solve my problems is my family members' health improving and me not having to be in that situation in the first place.
- Comments like 'What do you have to be depressed about?' and 'I know how you feel'.
- Comparing me to other people.
- The other person going on a long tangent about their own problems when I'm trying to confide in them or tell them how I've been struggling.
- Other people acting offended or not talking to me because I can't always spend time with them.
- The other person promising to provide support, but then standing me up or never bothering to contact me.


Re: Help When Helping A Friend

Thank you for your kind message, you also sound like a very wonderful and caring person and your family and friends are lucky to have you.


One thing you stressed that I agree with is taking time to make sure you are okay, and taking some time for yourself, and doing things for yourself. Its important to manage your own well being on top of others, especially since you wont be much use helping those around you, if you don't even help yourself.


With the list of things that you didn't appreciate that your friends did when you came looking for support, I think the key is to communicate your needs. I get this is difficult in a lot of circumstances, and opening up an asking directly for help can be hard. However, I've come across situations where my friend thought they were doing something good for me, when in reality it was the opposite. Despite their good intentions, due to the lack of communication their standard and expectations were different to mine, and its a healthy habit to better communicate and get your needs and boundaries across. That said it is also important that they take the initiative and ask for your needs, instead of assuming them all the time, or simply never being bothered to find out.