These are just a few of the feelings most of us have when trying to think of ways we might deal with a friend or relative in crisis. In response to crisis, I have heard many people express common concerns. “What should I do?” “Maybe someone else will handle this.” “I’m afraid I will do more harm than good.” “This too will pass. I think I should keep my mouth shut.” “Someone else is more qualified than I am.”
Because many find it difficult to know what to do, out of frustration and perhaps feelings of inadequacy, they give in to the temptation to do nothing at all. This is especially sad as times of crisis present opportunities to not only really make a difference, but for the building of profound levels of intimacy. Unlike any other period of time, a crisis presents the unique opportunity to actually demonstrate the depth of our caring.
I challenge you to step up to the plate when a crisis arrives. Don’t just close your eyes hoping that someone else will do what you should do. Be of good courage, knowing that you can be up to the challenge. As you face this challenge, remember a few guidelines that can be especially helpful.
1. Patience: When facing a crisis, an individual is understandably fearful. Who can he trust? What can he trust? Even if you have a long history with this person, be patient while he decides if he can trust you in this time of fear and confusion.
2. Listen: It’s interesting how many fear saying the wrong thing. A huge part of helping anyone is just being there, ready to listen. Sometimes I think that the best thing my training equipped me to do was to sit patiently, quietly, and listen intently as a person tells me his story — the whole story in his own way. Often, by just having someone listen, the person sorts out his thoughts and can more clearly see his options.
3. Acceptance: Listen for your friend’s feelings, not just his words. Accept all of them. If you can’t accept his feelings, how can he? Also, convey that you accept him, even though you might not accept or understand whatever he has done.
4. Uniqueness: This is not just another person with just another problem. Your friend or relative is unique and should be treated as such. Don’t categorize or label him.
5. Judgment: Be grateful that you don’t have to judge. That’s not your job as a friend or a relative. (This is good news.) Accept the person for who he is, refusing to judge him as right or wrong, bad or good.
6. Expertise: The only true expert on any person is the person himself. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you know more about the person or that your information is more accurate than his. It’s a dangerous thing to tell someone else what he should or should not do. Accepting responsibility by telling him what he should do makes you directly responsible for the outcome of his actions. Do you really want this on your shoulders? Rather, help your friend, even in his confusion, to sort out his options and, then, ultimately decide for himself.
7. Expectations: Remember this crisis isn’t about you. It’s about him. Don’t place your friend in a position of trying to live up to your expectations. He will have enough trouble with living up to his.
Being a good friend in times of crisis does present a special challenge. If you are up to this challenge, you will find a special place in your friend’s life as he will never forget that you were there to help him help himself.