"Remember those whom we perceive as strong also need support."
We all have a strong friend. One that constantly has major stuff going on in their lives, but keeps their emotions hidden by 75,000 layers of jokes and laughs, 14 layers of armor, six passcodes, four chains and one industrial safe. It's so hard for your strong friend to open up and sometimes it's almost impossible. They feel as if they cannot relate to anyone, and are afraid of feeling like a burden. It's a rarity to hear your strong friend actually talk about something that gets them emotional. They are prone to coping with their miseries by making the tragedies of their life the punchline of every joke but often times those friends keep the things that hurt them the most hidden in the crevices of their mind.
Some things are easier to talk about than others, but if your strong friend consoles in you and tries to open up about something that has been making them upset, PLEASE catch yourself, pause and rewind if you hear yourself doing any of the DONT's. Reactions like this will result in them wishing they had kept it to themselves. Trust me, having them live in their brain by themselves while no one else knows what is going on in there is the worst thing you can do. Isolation and feeling as if no one can understand you in a time of struggle is so unhealthy.
So, if you have a strong friend. And we all know one, please be cautious of the things you say, often times people underestimate the gravity of the situation. Remember that it's important to check up on your strong friends, no matter how good they seem to be doing because you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.
And for the strong friends, please remind yourself that you are allowed to have emotions too. You're allowed to be vulnerable, you're allowed to be weak. You are human and although you might be everyone's rock, remind yourself that you can get upset sometimes too and deserve to be checked on too. While holding things in may seem to be working fine for a while, if you are the strong friend, you know the crashes usually come down harder from being cooped up for so long. Nobody is invincible and talking about the things that bother you the most is a very healthy coping mechanism. Nobody should have to keep their feelings in until they no longer can. Strong friends, please do not be afraid to ask for help. Friends of strong friends, please be patient and understanding, and please listen to what they want to say.
1. DON'T ever say, "Damn... that sucks."
After someone who has been so afraid of sharing their struggles has finally opened up to you. They know it sucks. Trust me. That's why it's taken such an emotional toll on them. They have struggled with this dilemma on their own for who knows how long and those three little words, as easy as they roll of our tongues, offer no support or comfort. Before you let those words roll off your tongue, please pause. And rewind. And actually listen to what they're saying. Ask them for ways that you can help and let them know that they are not alone. Let them know that you are always there to listen and will do anything you can to help.
2. DON'T be a topic changer
This is a big one and often times unintentional. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy, to me, is one of the most comforting human emotions because it feels good to have somebody understand where you're coming from. While being able to relate to somebody feels good, there is a fine line to this that is very easy to accidentally cross. Be cautious of how you try to relate to the person venting because sometimes, when used poorly, it is the opposite of comforting. Saying things like "I know exactly how you feel!" and then relating the story to your cousin's wife's sister's boss and then going off on a tangent does not offer any type of comfort. I'm not saying that "relate stories" are not comforting but sometimes they are a leap and can accidentally change the topic before the person is even finished telling theirs. Be careful not to steal the attention or cut the person off short because having them open up to you is a rarity in itself and you can tell them about your cousin's wife's sister's boss at another time. Please just offer open ears until they are finished.
3. DON'T be a question prober
If you sense that someone is getting uncomfortable or is having difficulty telling you certain parts of their situation or story do not force it out of them. It is better to have them tell you at their own pace, to prevent from facing emotional trauma or PTSD.
4. DON'T invalidate their emotions
Imagine pouring your heart out to someone about something that has bothered you for a significant amount of time after being afraid to for so long and then having them tell you that it's not that big of a deal or that you're overreacting. I don't know about you but I would absolutely hate that. Humans all experience everyday life differently so it's important to never invalidate somebody else's perspective. Instead of bashing their reactions or emotions try to understand why they feel the way they do.
5. DON'T let them feel sorry for having emotions
As a person who has a very rough time opening up to people, I constantly find myself apologizing for talking about myself and the way I feel. If you catch them saying sorry after every sentence remind them that they don't have to. They should not feel sorry for having emotions. Strong friends, you do not have to apologize for your emotions.
6. DON'T tell other people if they have asked you not to
Trust is a really important part of personal connection and relationships. If it was tough enough for somebody to bring up the courage to tell you something, respect their personal information and do not share it with anybody else if they asked you to keep it a secret. Going against their trust might cause them to fear opening up to you or other people ever again. (It is okay to seek help and consult someone else if you feel as if they are at risk or threatened by someone else or themselves)
7. DON'T judge them for their decisions
The worst thing you can do is make a negative situation worse. Make sure you are accepting and understanding. If you disagree with their actions do not interrupt them. Allow them to explain why they reacted the way they did and listen to what they have to say. If they are feeling regretful for something that they have done, do not let them feel worse for it. Let them know that you will always be there for them and that everyone makes mistakes in life. Try to help them come up with a solution together.
8. DO Be there for them
This is the most important one. Whether it's nonverbal or verbal sometimes they just need someone to be there for them. Give them your undivided attention and listen to them. There have been so many times where I was not ready to speak about something that has been upsetting me, but all I needed was a hug or a good cuddle. Knowing your friends, or significant other are there for you offers enough strength to keep you going. Knowing you have a shoulder to rely on, regardless of how often its utilized is a comforting feeling. Friends, boyfriends, girlfriends. Be there for your strong friend, sometimes they need you too.
* * *
To my strong friends, and to all my friends please never feel as if you are annoying for talking about how you feel. Two years ago I went through one of the hardest years of my life. I didn't tell a single person about what was going on in my home life and caught myself being passive aggressive on a daily basis. I couldn't understand how the rest of my friends could laugh at lunch after I had just bawled my eyes out in the bathroom. Of course, there was no way they could know I was crying because I never told them but it caused me to be distant and moody. I continued to go through the rest of the school year, missing days often and walking through life with concrete in my shoes. I felt as if no one in the world could relate to me and I wanted to die on a daily basis.
Of course, no one knew because I still joked and laughed at everything around me but it took a major toll on my mental health and daily life. It wasn't until I spoke to someone who was very close to me that I began to feel better. This took me almost a year to build up trust and convince myself that I was not annoying or a burden for having feelings and issues at home that really hurt. I want to remind everyone that that's what friends and family are for.
Do not be afraid to seek help or speak to someone who is close to you. Sometimes just having someone listen and be aware of the things going on in your life is enough to make you feel as if you're not alone. Check up on your strong friends because you never know what's going on but please make sure you remain understanding and patient.
"Those whom we perceive as strong also need support."