It takes courage to open up about individual struggles, plus vulnerability, bravery, and trust — along with a whole other slew of emotions. It also takes courage to stand with your friend (physically or virtually) when they’re going through the thick of it.
To properly honor the vulnerability of your friend, you want to make sure you respond with kindness first and foremost — but sometimes it can feel daunting and intimidating, like you might say the wrong thing. We often find ourselves struggling with exactly how to respond to a friend who confides in us. Of course, you are thankful your friend opened up to you, but what, exactly, can you say or do to help? What is the appropriate way to respond?
While helping a friend, it is important to consider the language you use. Keep V-A-R (Validate – Appreciate — Refer) in mind as you approach these conversations.
Make sure to use encouraging words and do not belittle any of their problems. This is key to validating your friend’s experience. It is important to paraphrase your friend, by saying things like, “So what I’m hearing is that you feel alone.” Reassure them by saying something like, “It is okay to feel this way.” Remind your friend that nothing is permanent and there is hope.
To recognize your friend’s bravery and vulnerability, thank them for sharing with you. Appreciating and supporting your friend’s vulnerability can sound like, “Thank you for opening up to me. Your courage is inspiring,” or even, “Thank you for trusting me with this. I want to help as much as I can.”
Remind your friend that help is available. This could come in the form of referring your friend to a professional. You can say something along the lines of, “I appreciate you opening up to me, but I think I know someone who could be of more assistance. Can I walk you there/put you in contact with them?” Never feel obligated to handle a situation on your own, especially if the issue at hand is severe or dangerous. You can also refer your friend to try some of your favorite self-care strategies, whether that be your go-to playlist for when things become overwhelming or your favorite place to go for a walk.
Remember to laugh.
Laughter is honest and can remove negative thoughts, even if it is just for a short moment. Laughter is one of the most genuine and positive feelings in life, so do not be afraid to make your friend smile when appropriate. After all, it might remind them that any negative feelings they have are not permanent.
Sometimes friends don’t want to talk or listen to anything. Sometimes they just need to let their emotions out and the best thing you can do is to be physically present with them. Never be offended if a friend is not ready to talk about what they are going through. Remember, vulnerability takes a lot of courage, so if they are not ready to open up, just be with them. Be their shoulder to cry on and let them talk when they are ready.
Lastly, stay patient.
Being vulnerable requires you to be the most honest version of yourself, which is extremely powerful. It can even encourage others to talk about their own struggles and get the help they need. If a friend is not ready to open up completely, give them the time they need to understand and accept their emotions before they portray them to you. Once they do decide to open up, remain patient. They might not feel completely better after talking with you, but that is okay. Give them time. Keep checking in. You are making a difference in your friend’s life whether you notice it or not.