Inner180

Inner180 header image 1

How to Be a Friend in Need — Seven Tips That Can Help a Troubled Friend

March 9th, 2016 · No Comments

Friends and family in distress are all around us. From the workplace to the dining table to yoga class, we hear their stories. Their in-laws are driving them crazy. They have toxic co-workers and cope with bizarre office politics. Their stress is palpable.

And we want to hear about it. We want them to talk to us about it. Why do we do this? Is there something wrong with us? Not at all.

Wanting to talk with family or friends about their problems isn’t the same thing asschadenfreude, which translates from German as “harm-joy,” where we take actual pleasure from another’s misfortune.n-FRIENDSHIP-628x314_rev2

There are healthier, kinder parts of us that want and even like to hear about the woes of those we care about. Why is that?

We feel closer when we share our difficulties. When my friend reveals that she is divorcing, I feel special. She chose me confide in. I tell her how terrible I felt during my divorce and that it’s now a distant memory. My assurances relieve her. I feel good about being supportive. Our bonds deepen in such intimate conversations.

We want to know we’re not alone. Misery indeed loves company, and when we know that our friend’s sister-in-law is an alcoholic, we feel better about our nosy, opinionated mother-in-law. Neither of us has a perfect family and we feel better about that.

We do it out of curiosity. Let’s face it. We’re intrigued when we learn how our friend caught her boyfriend cheating. It’s flat-out interesting. While we don’t wish misery on our friends, when it inevitably comes their way, we want to hear about it. It doesn’t make us bad people. It simply means we’re human.

But there are ways to have friend-in-need conversations that support others and strengthen our connections with them. Here are a few simple guidelines to help negotiate this tricky terrain.

1. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Recently, I was having dinner with a friend who is divorcing after a long-term marriage. I wondered how it was going, but I remembered how, when I was divorcing, I treasured those times when I could relax with a friend and not think about it. So I avoided any topic that might remind her.

It’s so tempting to bring up the juicy topic, but just don’t. We all need down time from our difficulties. We need to relax and enjoy our social encounters. Trust that your friend will talk to you about a problem when and if they are ready.

2. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire. “UGH–what a GIANT drag! What a waste of time that you have to deal with this.” I recently erased those words from a text I was about to send a professor friend who is dealing with a student she suspects of cheating on an exam. She’d asked me for advice. I answered her question and let it go at that. She knows it’s a drag and a waste of time. My reminding her serves no useful purpose. We can be authentically helpful and supportive without inflaming a situation.

3. Don’t mine the conversation for pain. If your friend tells you that her son has gone into rehab, don’t ask what drug he was addicted to or whether insurance is paying for his treatment. Trust that if your friend wants you to know, she will tell you. While human curiosity is normal and natural, there is a time and place for it. This isn’t one of them.

4. Keep it under your hat. Assume everything that a friend in need tells you is absolutely secret. Tell no one, even if you weren’t asked to. You may be tempted to tell your sister that your neighbor’s husband had an affair with the nanny and you might know for a certainty that your sister won’t breathe a word of it to anyone, but just don’t do it.

When we spread stories about our friends in need, we compromise our Integrity–that quality of choosing honesty, principled behavior, and walking our talk. The momentary pleasure of sharing juicy details of another’s life is not worth it. You won’t feel good about yourself in the long run, and you’re letting others know you can’t be trusted with their secrets.

5. Don’t offer advice or suggestions unless you’re asked. Telling your friend with a cheating spouse that you know the best divorce lawyer in town might do more harm than good. Your friend may be hoping for a reconciliation. Such uninvited solutions have the potential to increase a friend’s stress and anxiety and undermine their confidence.

6. Do support their feelings. Whether they’re angry, sad, worried, or anxious, people’s feelings are always valid. Statements like “I understand,” or “I get it,” are far more helpful and supportive than, “Don’t be so sad” or “You don’t have anything to worry about.”
When we affirm another’s feelings we show them that we’re listening and that we understand what they are going through, without adding to their woes. It helps us understand that our feelings are normal and that we’re not alone.

7. Do give the gift of presence. One of the greatest gifts we can offer another is our undivided attention. Put down your cell phone, stop multi-tasking, and really show up to listen. This simple yet powerful act is one of the most precious gifts we can offer a friend in need. Often just “holding space” like this is extraordinarily comforting and healing.

So the next time you’re talking with a friend or family member who has hit a rough patch, remember these simple guidelines. And when you’re the one in need, be sure to reach out and ask for exactly what will help you.

Life’s challenges don’t spare any of us. Having someone supportive accompany us on all or part of that journey can make a huge difference in how well we go through it. We are social creatures, and having friends-in-need when we’re troubled is powerful medicine.

Tags: compassion · connection · stress

What do you do when things don’t go smoothly?

June 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Broken BowlA quiz:

1.  The electric drill breaks in the middle of a big project that you had set the whole weekend aside for. You:
a.  Tell yourself the drill shouldn’t break because it’s not that old.
b.  Curse the drill, the traffic on the way to the home store to buy a new drill, and the long checkout line in the store.
c.  Tell yourself and the person next to you in the checkout line that it’s a rip-off that drills cost so much and don’t last long.
d.  All of the above.

2.  Your printer is feuding with your computer when you need a document pronto for an important meeting.  You:
a.  Tell yourself that the printer should work because it was working fine a minute ago.
b.  Hit the print command over and over.
c.  Tell yourself you are an idiot for waiting for the last minute to print the document, and worry about losing your job.
d.  Tell yourself that bad things always happen to you
e.  All of the above.

3.  You leave late and hit a huge traffic jam on your way to your dental appointment.  You:
a.  Tell yourself the traffic shouldn’t be jammed at this hour.
b.  Grab the steering wheel tightly, clench your teeth, and curse the traffic.
c.  Think up dramatic excuses to tell the dental receptionist, the dentist, and everyone in the waiting room about why you are late.
d.  Complain to everyone in the waiting room that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
e.  All of the above.

4.  You are remodeling your kitchen and the granite you ordered doesn’t arrive on time, requiring your contractor to postpone the installation of your counters and new sink.  You have a big party at your house Saturday night, and you were planning to show off your new kitchen.  You:
a.  Chew out the contractor about how he missed an important deadline.
b.  Cancel your party and tell your friends (and yourself) how stressful it is to remodel.
c.  Get in a huge fight with your partner who doesn’t want to cancel the party, and who just doesn’t get it.
d.  Spend the afternoon crying.
e.  All of the above.

If you chose a, b, c, d, or e, it’s called arguing with reality, and it’s an argument you will lose.  Always.

Here’s the truth:  drills break, printers don’t print, and traffic jams happen.  Refrigerators and washing machines break, too, usually when they are full.  Kids forget to take their homework to school, granite doesn’t arrive on time for your party, and your last pair of contact lenses rip as you take them out of the container.  No matter what you are endeavoring to do, sometimes there will be glitches, delays, foul-ups, screw-ups, and mess-ups.  Count on it.

Now, answer one more question:

You are in the middle of something and a glitch, delay, or foul-up happens.  You:

a.  Accept reality
b.  Respond with a peaceful heart
c.  Find your sense of humor
d.  All of the above

Tags: stress · truth

Roller Coaster

August 20th, 2008 · No Comments

When you’re disappointed, does your mood plunge downward like it’s on a roller coaster?  Yesterday, my new client, let’s call her Susan, had plummeted like she was on the Coney Island Cyclone. She’d sought coaching after a string of business failures.  She suspected she might be doing something to attract this pattern into her life.

In a voice awash with misery and despair, she told me how she’d been incredibly happy this morning at the prospect of landing a fat new contract for her business, but a half-hour before our appointment, she received an email that the deal had fallen through. She was crushed and depressed.

“So what changed the way you feel?” I asked.

“The company changed its mind,” she stated dully.

“How would you feel right this minute if the email had gotten lost in the internet’s parallel universe, and you didn’t know about it?” I asked her.

“I’d feel great,” she said glumly, “at least until I found out.”

“So what really changed?” I asked.

With some coaching, Susan realized that her thoughts about herself had changed. When she believed she had the contract, she thought she was smart and competent and valued and felt energetic and excited about life. When she got the email, she told herself the company had rejected her and she was incompetent and useless. She became listless and empty.

As Susan discovered first-hand this morning, if we attach our happiness and self-worth to external circumstances, like a big contract, a promotion, or our children’s grades, we climb aboard life’s roller coaster. When circumstances are favorable, we are high, excited, exhilarated; when things change, we nose-dive to the bottom.

We hop on a roller coaster to take this ride when we lose touch with our true nature, what Martha Beck calls our essential self. Our essential self knows that we are always sparkling jewels, treasures of infinite value and worth. This has nothing to do with success in any external form–contracts or promotions or our kids’ grades or any other person or circumstance outside of us.

When we lose touch with that part of us, that all-knowing, peaceful, secure place deep in our hearts, we are at the mercy of life’s roller coaster. Our essential self gets buried by an avalanche of neediness and insatiable hunger for positive attention and rewards from others.

People change their minds, contracts fall through, kids fail courses, and others get selected for promotions and awards. That is the nature of life—change and unexpected circumstances are the only constants we can count on.

When we are in deep touch with our value, our worth, and the joy that lives deep inside us, we survive setbacks and challenges with peace and security. A contract can fall through, and we can put it into perspective. We remain positive and hopeful, and don’t slide into abusive or self-defeating thought patterns.

Sure, it feels good to land a big contract. But when we are in deep contact with our essential self, we never lose touch with our worth and our value, and we remain energized and hopeful. We understand that the loss of the contract could, in some as yet unfathomable way, be in our best interests. We save the roller coaster ride for fun and games at an amusement park. And, we realize that the next gift from life may be just an email away.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re on the Roller Coaster

1. Are you having any negative thoughts about yourself?

2. Is this an honest, factual assessment of this situation?

3. What happens to you when you hold on to these negative thoughts?

4. Imagine being in the present situation without the negative thoughts and judgments. Does anything shift for you?

5. Is there a stress-free reason to keep the negative thoughts about yourself?

6. What is an honest assessment of the situation that doesn’t include any negative or abusive thoughts about yourself or others?

7. Does this change the way you feel?

Tags: self-love