When life brings challenges, we turn to our friends for support – that’s what friends are for, after all. And asking for help is important. But how you ask for (and receive) help is important, too – it can mean the difference between leaning on your friend and crushing your friendship.
Robert Leahy, PhD, a prolific writer and director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City, offers a number of ways you can increase the support you get from others when you need it most. Here are five tips, based on Leahy’s work, to keep in mind:
Engage in positives: While it’s important to be able to turn to friends in troubled times, being purely negative over a length of time can get to anyone, making them want to turn away from you. So, even with supportive friends who are willing to listen to your troubles, be sure to also find ways to connect positively. This might include talking about topics of interest or doing activities that you all enjoy.
Offer solutions: Along with expressing your distress about problems, think about ways you can help yourself— and make sure to talk about those, too. This will help you move in a positive direction and will give your friends a chance to feel good about supporting you in constructive efforts.
Be your own friend: When people criticize themselves like an enemy would, friends often feel compassion for them and counter with positives. But when this happens repeatedly over time, friends can get tired of “fighting” for someone who is bent on such self-bullying. So, instead, try to keep in mind how a friend might respond to your troubles and offer this response to yourself instead.
Limit your requests for validation: Most people look to their friends at least sometimes to validate that they are okay – they want a stamp of approval for their actions or how they are feeling. And friends generally give this needed validation. But continued requests, even after you’ve been assured a number of times, may be pushing your friends away. Instead, focus on the assurances you’ve been given and try to really absorb them. This can be difficult if you tend to feel negatively about yourself, but you may find that practicing the act of taking in positive feedback can help you feel better.
Respect advice offered to you: One sure way to put distance between yourself and others is to reject advice that you’ve requested. So, even if you don’t think you’ll follow up on the advice, listen carefully and choose to appreciate your friend’s attempt to help you and to feel grateful to have a friend who cares enough to want to help.
Remember to consider your friend: Sometimes when people feel swallowed up by their own struggles and need for validation, they forget to be supportive of others. If you repeatedly fail to do this, those friends will likely limit their time with you, and turn to others for support and friendship. Even if they continue to be supportive, they are unlikely to share much about themselves, which means that your friendship cannot really be close. So, make sure you are a friend who gives as well as receives.
All of these suggestions can feel overwhelming, so it’s important to focus on one at a time. Pick one and practice doing it over the course of a day or week. See if you can see changes in how you feel or how others respond to you. If you don’t notice a difference right away, that’s okay. These things can take time. Stick with it and you’ll build the skills you need to encourage more support.
Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.