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8 Ways to Really Help a Friend in Need

8 Ways to Really Help a Friend in Need

When a friend is going through a difficult time, it’s natural to want to help, but it’s not always easy to know how. Think about occasions where you’ve been in need yourself – what did your friends do? What did you find the most helpful? Some friends may have kept their distance and perhaps you felt hurt by that, but it could be that they really didn’t know what to say or do, or they simply assumed you would ask if you needed anything. It can be hard whichever side you’re on, whether you’re the one needing help, or the one offering it.

Here are eight ways that you can really help a friend in need.

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1. Be Specific in Your Offers of Help

Vague comments like “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” are not likely to be taken up. Most people find it hard to ask for help, so telling them to let you know if they need anything is putting the onus back on them to ask. Often when people are going through difficult times, even everyday tasks can feel too much. So aside from offering them a shoulder to cry on, think about what practical help you can offer, and suggest specific things. For example “I’m going to the supermarket now, would you like to give me your list and I can pick up some things for you while I’m there?” Specific offers like that are more likely to be taken up.

2. Don’t Force Your Help on Them

Offer your help, but if they decline, then accept that. If you keep insisting you might make them feel worse. It may be that they have never really needed help before, or have been brought up to believe that they should be able to manage, no matter what. Or maybe they genuinely don’t want or need your help. That doesn’t mean you don’t offer to help again, it’s simply about being sensitive, and respecting what they say about their needs at the time.

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3. Only Offer Help That You Are Genuinely Able to Give

Think carefully about what help you offer. In a hasty moment when your friend is very upset, it’s normal to want to make everything alright for them, but reflect a little about the realities of what you’re offering before you open your mouth. Not following through on what you’ve offered, or doing something grudgingly, is worse than not offering at all; your friend will feel let down, and you will feel wretched.

4. Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best For Them

However they are struggling, your friend that is suffering is still an adult and needs to make their own decisions. When people are going through difficult times, they may feel that much of what is happening to them is out of their control. If you attempt to take over everything, you’re adding to their loss of control. What might have been the best thing for you when you were going through a difficult time isn’t necessarily what is best for them. Be guided by them, if they want you to take charge of things, or make decisions for them, then fine, but that’s their choice not yours. The exception to this is if you are concerned that they may harm themselves, or others, in which case you will probably need to seek appropriate help for them, even if they don’t want it.

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5. Remember That Small Thoughtful Gestures Go a Long Way

You may be limited in what you can do to help because of your own commitments, or for financial or geographical reasons, but don’t underestimate the value of small gestures. A card in the mail to let them know that you’re thinking of them can mean a lot, or a voicemail message to remind them you’re at the end of the phone if they want to talk is great for the friend to have. Perhaps you could do a bit of research on organizations or support groups that may be able to help, and email those details to your friend. Whatever your own situation, there will be small thoughtful things you can do to help which will probably be of greater value than you imagine.

6. Be Someone They Can Trust

Avoid sharing details of their situation with other friends unless they have given you permission. Your intentions might be good in talking it through with others, but your friend may have been telling you things in confidence, and will then feel you have broken their trust. They don’t need the added burden of feeling hurt and let down by you on top of whatever else they are going through.

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7. Listen More Than Talk

If you’re usually more of a talker than a listener, now is the time to hold back. Avoid repeatedly giving your opinion on their situation unless they ask for it. Be guided by them, they may want to just offload to a sympathetic ear, or they may want you to offer suggestions. It’s best if you can keep your own emotions under control, you may feel upset or angry about what your friend is having to deal with, but you will be more help to them if you can remain calm as you listen. This will help them feel that you are dependable and a rock for them.

8. Help Them to See a Brighter Future

Depending on their situation, your friend may be finding it hard to imagine a time where they won’t feel like they currently do. Gently help them to look beyond that by giving them things to look forward to, simple things like an evening out. When you feel they’re ready, begin to talk positively with them about plans for the future. Again, be guided by your friend here, if they seem open to what you’re saying, then go with it, if they shut down then back off and try again another time. The most important thing is for them to know that you are there for them, now, and as they move forward into the future.

Featured photo credit: Talk/Matus Laslofi via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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