Holding Space For A Friend In The Midst Of Change

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We are constantly engaging with people as we move through life.  Some of these people will merely be acquaintances, some will become friends, but a select few will become your inner circle.  These are the people you have chosen as “adopted” family members. These are the precious ones.

It is said that there are three kinds of friends:  Those that are there only for a reason, those that are there only for a season, and those that remain in your life forever. But what about you?  What kind of friend are you?  Who are the people in your life that you show up as “ride or die” for?  How much of yourself are you willing to give?  Who are you willing to be openly vulnerable for?

When one of your closest inner-circle friends is suddenly in the midst of a huge life-changing event, how can you best support them?

Perhaps your friend has suddenly been diagnosed with a serious illness, perhaps he is suffering loss or grief, maybe he is going through a divorce.  Whatever is happening in his life will cause him to be in a state of chaos for a time.  His “Plan A” has fallen through, and he may not have a “Plan B, or C, or D”.  How do you recognize a friend in crisis, and what can you do to support him as he travels this journey?

Here are a few of the things that you might see in your friend:

  • The need for solitude: Don’t take it personally.  Your friend has not forgotten you, he just needs time to process what is happening.  He needs time to figure out his next steps.  He needs to prioritize his actions to bring about his desired outcomes.
  • If the crisis is due to a decision he has made to change his life, it would seem that he “should be happy”…but somehow you may see that he is not: This can appear to be confusing.  Even if the changes were initiated by him, he still may need time to mourn the loss of his original Plan A.  It is common to think of oneself as a failure if you “didn’t get it right the first time”.  Your friend may be starting to learn that what he thought would make him happy, has not been the case.  When this happens, it is a huge opportunity for growth, but it can still be very painful.
  • Your friend may suddenly find that multiple things seem to be going wrong at the same time: This is not uncommon.  Old energy is starting to clear away so that new energy can take its place.  The Universe is attempting to direct him to a new path.  It can be extremely overwhelming.
  • During, and after a crisis everything in his world may need to be recreated: He is in the midst of trying to define who he is during this time.  He will be developing new thought patterns, shifts in mindsets, shifts in lifestyle. He is trying to develop a new sense of self.  He may have finally become tired of everything going wrong, but he may have never had the courage to change his life situation until the pain of change has become less than the pain of being “stuck”.  It may no longer be safe to remain in difficult situations, but finding a “new safe” takes a lot of courage and forward movement. He may be in the process of learning a whole new medical language and being subjected to tests and interpretation of test results.  He may be so overcome with grief that he cannot see that his world will ever get back to “normal”.
  • A person under great stress may show signs of anxiety, fear, depression, anger, guilt, or may just feel numb: He may become overwhelmed with sadness.  He may feel like he is not good company for anyone.  He may not want to interact with friends or family, choosing instead to give himself the time to work through his feelings. There is a big battle going on in his head.  He may be fighting for his life.

As a real friend, of course you want to help him through this crisis.  This may be your friend’s long journey back to a place that he can finally call “home”.  A new normal.  You ache for him to work through this crisis to find healing.  But, in the meantime, what can you do to help?

Your friend needs a “strong foothold, so he doesn’t fall backward.” You can be that foothold.   He needs to be “anchored with repetitive thoughts of positivity”.  He must learn to “put away his fear of what’s ahead, and keep moving forward”.  (Quotes credit: @Budokaizened)

Offer these things:

  • A safe place to fall: After a crisis,  your friend may need actual shelter.  Does he have a place to stay?  Can you help? If he has a place to live, maybe he just needs to know that you are a safe place for him to fall.  A place where he can talk openly, or be silent. A place where he will not be judged. A place where he knows he is loved.
  • He needs good nutrition: A person cannot begin to heal without proper nutrition and hydration.  Our bodies, as well as our minds, need to heal. Sometimes, it is difficult for a person in crisis to even think about food, let alone food preparation.  Can you step up here, and help make sure that he is eating properly?
  • He needs rest: Without adequate rest and sleep, the body cannot repair and rejuvenate.  It may be difficult for your friend to sleep, during this time, and he may need to be encouraged.  He may need “permission” to allow himself to rest.
  • Exercise: The last thing that someone in crisis thinks about is getting exercise, but exercise is a great mood lifter.  Endorphins can actually get rid of some of the negative effects of stress.  If he has a sport or activity that he has always enjoyed, then encourage him to continue. Even a simple walk in the sunshine can have great benefits.  Exercise will also help your friend get back to the normal rhythms of life.  Offer to participate in these activities.
  • Listen and talk: Allow your friend to set the pace for discussion.  Honor the fact that he may not be ready to share.  He may not even understand his own thought processes at this time.  If and when he is ready to share, let him know that you will be there for him.  Allow him to express his true feelings when he is ready.  Listen with your heart.
  • Past strengths: Even though your friend has had many experiences with stress in the past, he may not recognize strengths that he has previously used to move forward. Encourage him to think through his strengths.
  • Normalcy and routine:  Your friend will need to know that everything he is experiencing, thinking, and feeling are perfectly normal.  Offer encouragement frequently, and allow time for him to process and acknowledge it.  Help him to return to his normal routine as quickly as possible.
  • Take a back seat: This crisis is not about you.  It never was about you.  Be there for your friend.  Don’t take anything personally.  He is going through a difficult time, and he is not himself right now.  Let him know that you love him and that you will be there to walk with him as he needs it.  Reassure him that you will still be there when the crisis is over.
  • He may not want consoling: Your friend may need space to process things, without anyone trying to change his mind or his situation.  Silence is OK.  You are a lifeline, so ask what he needs and try to provide whatever that is.
  • Appointments:  Your friend might appreciate your help with transportation to appointments, or he may need help with a babysitter so that appointments can be kept.  His children may need transportation to activities.  If it is an illness of a child that has caused the crisis, his other children need to continue to have routine in their lives.  What can you offer to help in these areas?

Don’t forget to recharge your own batteries.  Helping a friend through a difficult time can drain your own energy. Take care of yourself:

  • Take breaks: If you don’t take a break, you may find yourself in the midst of the chaos.  When you burn out, everyone suffers.  Your friend is a high priority to you, but you must not forget your own needs in the process.
  • Get ahold of your own emotions: You may find yourself angry that this situation has happened to your friend.  You may be overcome with sadness for him.  You may have difficulty sleeping or you might have nightmares.  Care for yourself as you do for your friend.  You cannot give from an empty cup.  You may need to seek out other friends for support or counseling during this stressful time.

Remain committed.  Don’t fade from your friend’s life:   Be patient. Prepare to be in it for the long haul.  It may take weeks or even months before he will heal from this trauma.  In the meantime, here are a few things that you can offer:

  • Contact him: Don’t just say “call if you need me”.  He probably won’t.  Call, text or email him just to let him know that you are thinking of him.
  • Remain positive: Acknowlege his pain.  Try to reframe the negative, when appropriate.  Let him know that it is OK for him to be sad.  It is also OK for him to be happy again.
  • Bring food: Sharing a nice meal with your friend may be the most comforting thing that you can do. Try to remember that alcohol is a depressant.
  • Offer to spend time together: When he is ready, he will appreciate the company.  Offering to listen and to support are some of the best gifts of friendship.  Avoid giving advice or judgement.  Know that talking a situation through will eventually help the trauma fade for your friend.  Give him the grace to choose his own pace with regard to the healing.
  • Can you take on some of his chores: If you can free up some of his busy time, he will have more time to rest, work through the trauma, and heal.

As you walk through a crisis with a close friend, know that the most important thing you can offer is love. Love holds space!  In the end, I would rather say that I loved too much, than that I did not love enough.

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