I have been struggling with anxiety a lot the past few years. Part of my anxiety is my struggle to trust my friends and others with the concerns that are on my heart. After several friends broke that trust, it became harder than ever to learn who my true friends were.
I had been told time and again by a friend that my struggles were a burden and that my concerns "didn't matter." This was heartbreaking and really caused me to struggle to open up to others. I came to believe that my friends didn't want me to open up to them and that I should hide my pain and anxiety because that's what I am supposed to do not to be a burden on my friends and then lose them as a result of my neediness.
Very recently I was reminded that this is all a lie. I spent some time with some Christian friends who reminded me of what it means to be a good and caring friend.
At a party I attended, I observed a friend open up about some very difficult things she had struggled through in the past. She very openly described the struggles she had been through and continued to deal with. I was so proud of her for her honesty and bravery in sharing these challenging things, particularly in light of my own difficulties in sharing my own anxieties. A mutual friend responded to her with a phrase that I will never forget:
"Thank you so much for sharing with us."
This was mindboggling for me. Just this simple phrase was exactly what I needed to hear myself whenever I shared something personal. This simple phrase spoke everything: trust, empathy, sympathy, love, and friendship.
Not only was that friend accepted and loved despite her struggles, but she was also thanked for sharing them. She was welcomed to share them. While I consistently felt regret, shame, embarrassment, and fear from sharing my anxieties, at that moment just this one phrase made me feel safe (and I wasn't even the one sharing).
Why isn't this the accepted way to react when someone shares something deep and personal?
When my friends dismiss my concerns or react negatively to my anxieties it just worsens my struggles. Having a friend thank me for sharing would mean the absolute world to me because it would show me that I am being valued and accepted for who I am and that my friend is concerned about my happiness and wellbeing.
Thank you so much to that friend who showed me what it means to love and empathize with others. You helped reinstil in me the faith that it is okay to be vulnerable with others. You showed me that I can be myself, even if that self is hurt and struggling. It is okay to share my anxiety because real friends want to be there for you. Real friends will thank you for opening up to them. You showed me where I should put my trust.