When I was thinking of people to interview about how to help a friend going through something hard, I immediately thought of my friend Elise, from EliseCreates. She has been so kind and compassionate during our infertility journey. She asks genuine and sincere questions. I’ve always felt like she was coming from a place of love and just trying to be nosy or offer bandaid fix-it statements. So without further adieu:
How to Support Your Friends Who Are Going Through Hard Things
When you find out a friend is struggling, what are some ways you try to help?
I've learned that one of the most important things is simple to care and to show that you care. As humans, I think really need to feel seen and cared for. I've learned that "caring" can look different for each individual, but at the root of it all is simply making an effort to show them that you care. Genuine effort always shines through, even if your efforts feel clumsy. If you know the friend fairly well, consider the ways they have cared for you or shown love to you. Often, people give love and care for others in the way they most want to receive it. For example, I have a friend who is really good at giving little, meaningful gifts. So, when she had a miscarriage, I sent her a small, meaningful gift because I knew that's what would help her to know how much I cared.
In my own personal journey, you have been so good about asking questions in a noninvasive way-- what tips would you give to someone who would like to ask questions, but isn’t sure how to be tactful?
The most important things are to be genuine, honest and willing to be vulnerable. If what you're saying comes from your heart, the person you're talking to can tell that you mean it with kindness. You can also be honest and let them know if you're not entirely sure how to best approach what you want to say, but you want to make sure they know your intentions are caring for them - this is also great because it helps them to know you are open to feedback. For example, when someone adds to their family through adoption, there are certain words and phrases that are negative in the context of adoption conversations. But many people who aren't familiar with this experience, aren't aware of the negative words. If you aren't, but you want to show a friend who is hoping to adopt that you care, let them know that you're open to learning these things!
One of the most important parts is a willingness to be vulnerable. To really sit with someone and be empathetic about their challenges, you have to open yourself up and be vulnerable. It's surprising how often our feelings and emotions about our experiences are something we can connect on even though our experiences may be different. I'll talk about this a little more in my next answer.
What things help you to be more compassionate towards people with struggles that are different than your own?
When I was single, I went through a particularly heartbreaking on-again/off-again relationship and I felt like my heartache was kind of a "silent battle" because I didn't think anyone had experienced exactly the tough situation I was going through. I went to lunch with a friend who had experienced an ectopic pregnancy and as I talked about my heartache, she kept saying things like "I totally know that feeling. That's how I felt when I lost my baby." I felt such a connection with her, even though I had previously thought my challenge and heartache was so different than hers.
I've learned to be vulnerable in a way that helps me truly recognize people's feelings instead of just their experiences. Our unique experiences are valid and may not be fully understood by others who haven't shared the experience, but I truly believe that we often share a lot of the same feelings and can relate and connect if we are open to it.
How do you feel you have grown your capacity to feel empathetic towards other peoples’ struggles?
I really like the phrase "I'm here to sit with you in your ______." It's not a phrase I necessarily use verbally, but it's the way I think about approaching others when they're having a hard time. I'm totally a "fixer". My natural reaction to someone struggling is to offer advice or help or to do anything I can to "make it all better". But I've learned that a - it's not my job to "fix" everything, b - even if it was my job, it's actually impossible to "fix" most things, and c - most people don't need a solution as much as they need a friend. I've stopped trying to fix and started making a solid effort to just care and be available. Which means, if there is something I can do, they know I'm there and willing to help.
SEE? I told you Elise was good. She shares so much from the heart and is seriously just the best kind of person. I love reading her blog and following her on Instagram and would honestly recommend her to anyone. You can check out her blog here. And be sure to follow her on Instagram here!