If you’re like me, the amount you care is often your own downfall.
Caring, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a precious trait to hold, but often there are situations that are out of your hands. In those moments, you have to learn to let people heal on their own.
For me, that’s ranged from my handling of friends having conditions that I feel helpless towards, friends with money issues and friends with relationship troubles. It is a grey area of responsibility, and a dangerous one. As a friend, you want to help as much as possible but for many things you can find yourself pushed away from those you love if you’re not careful.
Support them, but watch the line and be careful not to trip over it.
Here are 3 main steps to follow when doing that:
1. Ask them what they need.
So many people are quiet about their own needs, it’s painful to watch. I pride myself that in more than one of my friendships, we have a great openness and honesty that keeps the air clean of tension or questions. That truthfulness is the most underrated and lacking aspect of several modern friendships and is the reason behind many clashes. If from the start you know your friend is struggling with something, be open and ask them what they need from you. Do they need your full advice? Do they just need support or someone to listen? Maybe they just need a distraction.
It may seem like a lot of questions or effort, but that’s the true behind-the-scenes of so many long-lasting friendships. It is not all fairies and roses, just like relationships, it is arguments and silences and anguish. Being upfront is the glue that brings it back together.
Your friend will appreciate you asking and may cower slightly as they do not want to admit they need something, but as long as they know they have your support, you have started the process. Whether they desperately need your advice on something or they just need you to be there, you are making a difference.
2. Don’t expect them to take your advice.
They probably won’t. Just because you give them advice does not mean it is the right advice for them or that it’s anything they will listen to. Often when people are struggling, they don’t know what to do and hearing different opinions only exacerbates the confusion. They need to work it out for themselves, but it is still important that they have your opinion (if it’s welcomed).
If you wait for them to change and to finally take on everything you’ve given them and told them, it’s going to be a long wait. And a painful one at that. You will become invested more than you ever should. Your life will slowly stop being yours and suddenly become theirs, and every thing that happens in their life that goes further away from your advice, the more it hurts. It’s complicated, it’s frustrating, but it’s not worth risking your own mental health over.
3. Step back if you need to.
This is one of the most important steps for both of you and for your friendship. If tensions are always high, if there is a constant heaviness in your conversations and if you feel them slipping away, step back. Be honest again, but step back. It’s very easy for friendships to disappear in these situations and once they’ve been affected, it is agonising to look back on what has changed over something so small. It is not as simple as them not appreciating your care. It is not as simple as them not loving you as much any-more. It is mixed up in complication and differing opinions.
If you have some bias in the conversation, step back.
If your own life is falling apart, and your mental health is depleting as a result, step back.
If you’re worried you’re going to lose them, as contradictory as it sounds, step back and appreciate the space.
A final reminder.
Any relationship, friendship or bond requires work, effort and an insane amount of love. It is one of the most stressful elements to life, but also one of the most incredible. If you are meant to be in each others lives, which no doubt you are, then it’s imperative to be honest and to be aware. Apologise, confess your worries, be open, and steer away from petty hate at every point.
Friendships can falter and fizzle away for the silliest of reasons, and there is no greater heartbreak than losing someone who was never meant to leave. Support each other and surprise each other, but know when to leave them to heal on their own.