In my travels I have noticed a recurring theme among people: We seem fixated on trying to prove that we are okay. We try to prove it to ourselves, to our friends, family, work colleagues, teachers, therapists, even strangers! And we seem convinced that being okay is what other people expect of us. In some cases, this may be true. There are those in the world who do not have the capacity to deal with anyone else’s burdens. And you know what? That’s okay!
What’s not okay is lying about how we really feel just to please other people. Would it surprise you that everyone has periods in their life where they are not okay? It shouldn’t surprise you. If we deny these emotions, we set ourselves up for real problems later on. It’s normal to feel sad or lonely or hurt. Bottling them up and denying them is unhealthy. It’s been scientifically proven that our emotions can directly and indirectly affect our physical health, so if we deny the emotions and provide a healthy outlet for them, we could be causing ourselves even more harm. Physical problems like hypertension, heart disease, chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue and a whole list of disorders and diseases are linked to our emotional health.
Equally, it is wrong to expect others to always be okay. It’s wrong to expect them to always be happy, healthy and mentally and emotionally stable. It’s wrong to put those expectations on others when we, ourselves, struggle from time to time.
So how do we manage when someone we know is not okay? Here are a few simple steps you can take that will ensure they feel loved and listened to but at the same time, not overstep your boundaries.
1. Schedule a time and place to listen to your friend. This gives you time to prepare, especially if you know they are going through a really hard time, and the conversation is likely to be heavy. It also gives them something to look forward to. And finally, it shows that you are in control of your own capacity and time, not them.
2. Have a time limit on the meeting. Tell your friend that you can give them x amount of time and after that you’ll need to schedule another meeting. YOU control the time. Some people will talk and talk and talk, which in and of itself isn’t bad, but it can be very draining on you, plus, it can use up a lot of time.
3. Gently but firmly establish your boundaries. It’s important your friend knows and respects what you can and cannot do. If they do not respect your boundaries, then it might be important for you to limit your time with them. But always be loving and caring.
4. Listen actively not passively. If you are meeting with them in person, listen with both ears and both eyes. Look at them when they are talking to you and acknowledge their words. If it helps, take notes and refer back to them when speaking to them. This shows them that you are listening and actually care about them.
5. Don’t interrupt (except in emergency, of course!) You may notice your friend might go over and over the same things. Remember, their way of processing problems might be different to yours. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Let them get it off their chest and only interrupt if it’s very important.
6. Affirm, validate and acknowledge your friend and their feelings. Even if it differs from your own. Until you walk in their shoes, you cannot fully know what it’s like for them. Their feelings are real to them, even if they seem unrealistic to you. If your friend is going through a particularly rough time, chances are, they are not thinking clearly anyway. Their feelings and thoughts will be all over the place.
7. Offer them reassurance and when you comment on their feelings and thoughts, do so with love. Don’t argue with them. Point out things that might be beneficial for them to help them better understand their emotions and ways to improve their situation. It may be that they haven’t thought about the best solutions yet.
8. Don’t bring your own issues into the conversation unless it’s relevant. They are already burdened with their own problems, as likely you are too! But if you have agreed to listen to them about theirs, try not to bring yours to the table too. If they discuss something that you’ve experienced yourself, it might be helpful if you share and then describe what helped you in that situation. But try not to bring your unresolved woes to them at this time. There will be an opportunity for you to share at a later date.
9. And finally, always aim to end the conversation with something positive and affirming. This goes a long way to alleviate fears of abandonment and worry and helps them to know that you do care.
So what about the person who is not okay? How should you approach people when you need to talk? Here are some pointers:
1. Always respect your friend’s boundaries. I cannot stress this enough. I know the word “boundaries” can be uncomfortable for some, but they really are necessary and are a good thing to have! If you don’t respect them, chances are your friend won’t be there in the future when you need them.
2. As hard as it is, try not to “dump” all of your problems onto your friend. Maybe pick one or two things that is really bothering you and speak about them.
3. Your friend is not a miracle worker. They will not have all the answers. And chances are, they might not even be able to help you more than just lend you an ear to listen. So don’t expect them to fix your problems. Fixing your problems is your responsibility at the end of the day. It’s okay to ask for advice and help with resources, but you need to be the one to deal with the issues you face. Your friend is there to listen and encourage and maybe advise if appropriate.
4. Be kind. Your friend may be going through their own problems too, so be kind to them and respect their capacity to help you. Try to think about them as well. I know it’s hard when everything seems to be falling down around you, but everyone has their issues to face and deal with. I hate to say it, but you’re not the only one with problems! That said, I appreciate how difficult it can be to think of other people’s issues when your own are so overwhelming. Just try to be mindful of them too.
5. Try to be patient. Your friend might not be able to see you right away when you need them. This isn’t because they don’t care or don’t want to talk to you. There will be a load of possible reasons for it. Look at the time you have until you see them as an opportunity to try to focus on exactly what the issue is with you and maybe try to come up with some possible solutions that you can discuss with your friend. This does two things: 1. It shows your friend that you are wanting solutions and are willing to work towards fixing the problem and 2. It allows you time to really focus on the situation and maybe get those very intense emotions under control.
Basically, respecting each other’s boundaries and feelings is a must on both sides. If you can do that, you are both well on the way to having a very fruitful conversation and it builds trust between you and them. I recognise that some of you reading this might have some very real problems with no easy solutions. And it’s okay to not be okay! Give yourself permission to feel those emotions; just don’t let them overwhelm you! I know it’s hard, but you got this! I believe in you!!
Thanks for reading. Stay safe!