There must be something in the air but September has not been kind to my friends; in fact, I would say that September has sufficiently kicked my friends’ asses. My closest friends have been rocked with the loss of family, the loss of pets (which to me is family), and serious hospitalizations of parents; seeing their pain as life hands them a raw deal has been difficult.
In my world, my friends are my family. When you grow up around the world and moving as often as my family did, solid friendships were hard to make and even more difficult to maintain so I really value the people I call “friends”; and I may be biased (and by may be, I mean definitely am) but my friends are the best. My friends have gotten me through the hardest of times this year and truly shown up. My friends have comforted me when I needed comforting and called me on my BS when it needed calling out. They have supported all my hair-brained endeavors including this blog and been there some of my biggest moments. My friends and I have had some of the most intelligent and thought-provoking conversations as well as tear-inducing belly laughs; they challenged me to try new things and have straight up pushed me out of my own comfort zone. They have inspired so much personal growth and encouraged me to dream big. Like I said, they are the best.
But as my friends go through this difficult season, I find myself wondering who I am to them and how I am showing up as a friend. Questions have arisen in my brain to the quality of friend I am. How do I know I am being a good friend? Am I showing the right amount of concern? Am I doing enough? Am I saying the right things? Am I being the best support I can be for them? As I write this and read it back to myself, I don’t intend to make their pain about me; I honestly want to show up for them the way they have for me and be a good friend. But the question remains: how?
The answer for me on how to be a good friend lies in reflection of how my friends were good to me when things were hard. After going through an abusive relationship and a traumatic breakup, I can look back now on how my friends were there. Even now, I often am shrouded in my neuroses, and I rely on them to keep me in check. They were and are the epitome of #friendshipgoals. These are the lessons I have learned from them.
- Listen without trying to fix. I think one of the most frustrating things in my last relationship was that my ex would listen to me to try to fix things but wouldn’t hear what I was saying or hear me telling him what I felt I needed. I think this is a pretty common problem in most relationships (romantic, familial, professional, or friendship). Everyone is so quick to jump to the solution because it absolves the listener from having to sit in the discomfort with the person in pain or the frustration from having to hear the problem; the quick fix is really a selfish notion. Whenever I am going through something crappy or am feeling some kind of way, I really appreciate my friends just listening to me. Sometimes it isn’t about working through something; sometimes it is about just getting things off your chest. Allow your friends to vent if they need to and just listen.
- Engage in empathy. Beyond listening, my friends are the best at validating my feelings which only makes me feel more heard. That validation comes out of empathy not sympathy. What’s the difference? Sympathy is feeling sorry for a person and throwing them a pity party; empathy is about understanding why a person feels the way they feel by putting the self in their shoes. Brene Brown, my personal superhero, said it best, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” And when someone is hurting or going through something painful, a good friend leans into empathy and connects.
- Be honest but kind. When I was dealing with my break up, my friends were honest with me about the things they saw that concerned them in the relationship but they weren’t unkind in their honesty. They didn’t co-sign my negative thought patterns but they didn’t shove their opinions down my throat in an abrasive way that would have shut me down emotionally either. It is easy to make a bad situation worse just by how we respond. Honesty is always good but so is kindness and tact.
- Be present. Sometimes it isn’t the advice given, the comfort food that was bought, or the wine drank together in consolation that are remembered when the chips are down. It’s the mere presence of our good friends that hold us together. When I think about the pain of my abusive relationship or the break up, I think about my best friends Lindsey and AJ letting me stay with them to get space and to feel safe again and being physically there for me. I think about my friend Stephanie picking up the phone to just talk to me when I was upset or didn’t want to feel alone even if nothing was being said. Their generosity, their sincerity, their love is what I will always remember from that time, and with them, it was easy to come through the trauma of it all even stronger. Being there, being present through the hurt and wanting to be there is the greatest act of kindness that we can show to one another.
I think the most important thing to remember when it comes to being a good friend is to be a good friend. The ability to be there for our friends, through the good and bad, is a privilege.
To my friends going through it this month, I love you; I am here for you; and thank you.