When You’re Worried About a Friend

June 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

A good friend is caring, concerned and invested in your life – which means sometimes a good friend worries about your happiness.

The happiest and most successful people I know all have one secret weapon in common: they are surrounded by an incredibly supportive network of family and friends. We often refer to a supportive friend or family member as “our rock.” A rock is someone who can be silent in a moment of despair, who can stay with us in an hour of grief, and one who can tolerate not understanding, not curing, and not healing our circumstance. So how can you be a better “rock” for a friend you’re worried about?

Base your approach on the specific situation and, remember, hearing honest, loving concern from you can help break-up a friend’s denial and provide the first-step on the path of their acknowledging the problem and getting help. However, keep in mind your role is “friend,” not “therapist;” not “spouse,” and not “judge.”

Here are five common scenarios where the worry might set in:

1. When you’re worried about a friend’s marriage.

If you notice tension in a friend’s marriage, keep in mind that every marriage goes through difficult periods of time. Those disruptive bumps and seasons of troubles are different for every marriage. It’s not IF a marriage will have them but WHEN and WHAT they’ll be. There is no other road to growth than through pain and struggle.

Be a listening ear. Your friend doesn’t need advice they need an unconditionally loving sounding board. Typical problems in marriage stem from two individuals coming to the relationship unknowingly empty and afraid. Best way to be a good friend to both parties? Genuinely care and love them. If you notice your girlfriend barking orders out to her husband, pull her privately aside and gently say, “You seem like you’re really hurting right now. What can I do to help you?” You don’t know what’s underneath the pain; you don’t know what’s behind closed doors. You want to be helpful? Then simply love! Everyone’s poor behaviors stems from pain. Period!

2. When you’re worried about your friend’s financial situation.

When it appears that a friend’s financial decisions are on a self-destructive path, keep in mind two types of spending:

  • Compulsive Spending Compulsive spenders literally cannot control themselves from making purchases, typically due to some sort of pathological disorder. It’s not unusual for these individuals to have garages and closets full of unopened and unused purchases accumulated over many years.
  • Out-of-Control Spending Out-of-control spenders, however, make purchases because they find shopping stimulating. They believe shopping will “buy” them inclusion or happiness.

Encourage inexpensive lunch dates, like McDonald’s specials. Suggest other activities together beside going to the mall! Again, remember that you’re not married to your friend. No vows were made; no finances are co-mingled. You just get to simply love and accept; not confront. If this is a particularly close friend, talk about your own tendency towards “retail therapy” or share your own financial goals. Perhaps you can mutually support each other; at the very least, open up the money-matters conversation.

3. When you’re worried about a friend’s eating habits.

If you are noticing weight changes in a friend or feel uncomfortable with her preoccupation with dietary restriction, or are aware that she abuses laxatives or vomits to purge herself of food, speak up. Consider something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve lost so much weight and that you’re still dieting and losing. I’m really worried about your health. What are your thoughts?” Or, “It seems that you’re often talking about food, weight and exercise. You seem worried about it and so unhappy with the way you look. I’m concerned that you don’t feel good about you.”

The truth is, in or society, we value youth, beauty and thinness. Those are the great lies, however. Those factors do not determine our value but most of us get caught in the beauty-worthy trap at some point. Come clean with your own struggles on making peace with aging and soft curves. Try and have a conversation about media myths and the truths about what we know makes us truly healthy and happy.

One thing that is never helpful? Monitoring what one eats. To be told what to eat, how much to eat, and to watched while eating would create a problem with food for any of us. Someone struggling with an eating disorder literally thinks about food all the time. Resist the urge to monitor, comment or offer advice about eating.

4. When you’re worried a friend is depressed.

When a friend seems to lack their usual spark for life or is remaining in bed longer than usual and seems to be low on the energy scale, tell them what you see. Depression is just one area to rule-out. Perhaps there is a larger medical issue brewing. You don’t have to diagnose the problem, just point out what you see. If you know your friend’s family background is full of mental health concerns, gently remind her that depression is not her fault (or her family’s) but that’s common to have a genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression. Offer to visit her doctor with her and/or be a dedicated walking partner. Exercise is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re depressed, and likely the thing that can be most immediately beneficial.

5. When you’re worried about a friend’s moodiness.

Anger, especially, is a true cry for help. Underneath anger is feeling empty, in pain and afraid. It’s very hard to hug a prickly person, but when you do, they melt into their underlying baseline emotions. And only then can you be helpful. When a young mother is irritated and short-tempered, she herself is empty and hurting. Be honest and non-judging with your friend about how she reacts to her children by saying something like, “You seem like you’re running on empty, dear Sara. What can I do to help? I know how much you love your kids and yet I can see that you’re hurting because you’re hurting them, Sweetie. Talk to me.” Then offer a plan mixed with a little humor by saying, “Next time you’re feeling out of sorts call me so I can come over and remove every sharp object in the house!”

As women, we are vulnerable to hormonal imbalance and changes. It will never be an excuse for bad behavior but it can certainly be a warning sign that we are not operating at our best.

The worst thing you can do for a friend you’re worried about is to be remain silent. The best thing you can do is see them and speak up about all that you see; about both the wonderful and the worrisome.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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