How do I help a friend going through a difficult time?


Hi, it’s Dr Jamie here. I wanted to present a video for a little while now on a topic around how to support someone going through a difficult time.

In life, we all go through difficult times and we all have friends and loved ones that go through difficult times. Recently I had the experience of catching up with two close friends of mine. And, one of them in particular went through a really difficult breakup that happened quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly. And so he was opening up, being really quite vulnerable and raw with myself and another friend. And at one stage he actually started to tear up and my other friend said to him, don’t cry you’re gonna make me cry. And, I thought about that afterwards. I thought about, his response and and what sort of effect that had on my other friend as well.

I saw the tears that had started to form behind his eyes, start to dry up. His whole sort of demeanour had started to change and you could really see that he started to clam up a bit. I thought about my friend’s response “don’t cry, you’re going to make me cry.” And this guy in particular is honestly one of the most caring and genuine people that I’ve ever come across as well. So I really do not think he meant anything harmful from that comment. But I did some reflecting on that and thought why is it that often when we see someone in pain and distress we’ll often tell them those types of messages?

I think sometimes in our haste to want to fix the problem, we can do our friends and loved ones a disservice. Seeing someone that we know, love and care about in pain really triggers our own discomfort and anxiety. I think that can really lead to an urge to try to fix the problem. I think that a lot of the times the motives are pure, but maybe the method needs a little bit of tweaking.

So what should we really be doing in that sense? If you see someone that you know is in a lot of pain and you can really see that they have something on their heart and chest that they’re trying to get it out

How do we encourage, rather than discourage them to to open up and to let it out in a healthy way? Not to bury or repress any of that stuff.

First of all that the very fact that the are opening up to you probably says a lot about you. The connection they have with you, the trust they have and the depth of the relationship, friendship or whatever. I’ve found that people don’t tend to open up easily in life, even to therapists. I wish they did. And so for the very fact that people are opening up to you that says a lot about your character, so you know, kudos to you, cause you’ve probably done a lot of really good things just to, to get to that stage.

I think one of the messages that we really want to send people implicitly and also explicitly as well is that, you know, your feelings aren’t too big for me. They’re not too big for you. We can get through this together. And so practically speaking, just, kind of being there for someone, maybe placing your hand on their shoulder, letting them know, let it out, you can feel this. And just being physically present with them.

I often find that when I’m in session with clients one of the times that I really don’t say too much at all is in the middle of someone processing through a lot of really heavy grief because in that moment, just being there is enough. Sometimes speaking in those moments can, really sort of put a damper on those feelings.

We know that, we’re certainly not born with these ideas that emotions are weak or that people would judge me for feeling my feelings. We’re not born with these ideas, but a lot of us have these ideas because of the different experiences that we’ve had that have often been quite negative.

So why don’t we see if we can give people some new experiences so that they can have, you know, new and healthy ways of expressing their feelings. So I do hope, that this short video has been helpful for people out there and next time you see someone that’s in some pain, some sadness why don’t you give this a go? See how you go with just being there for your friends and loved ones, seeing if you can just notice your own anxiety and your own discomfort. And in spite of that, just continue to have a soft, calm, gentle sort of presence with your friends. You don’t need to feel the need to fix the problem or make them stop crying or anything like that.

It is very healthy to feel feelings and it’s the suppression of feelings which often does lead to a lot of psychological, emotional and other difficulties in life.

I do want to do some more videos on, on psychology and mental health related topics. I hope this one’s been helpful for you. So if there are specific questions, or topics that you want to know more about, do you let me know, send me your comments or, or send me a message and I’d love to do what I can to, to kinda talk on some of that stuff and and create some resources that might be helpful for you guys

So thank you for watching. Have a great day and I’ll talk to you soon. Bye for now.

Dr Jamie Barnier

About Dr Jamie

I’m a Clinical Psychologist based in Melbourne who helps adolescents and adults cope with overwhelming emotions and remove the need to numb negative feelings through food, alcohol, sex or drugs. I focus on addressing the root cause of the problem with the goal of creating happiness, peace and lasting change.

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