The second we deviate from our classic “Fine” answer when friends ask how we are, it’s as if they run for the hills. The other day, we found ourselves on the receiving end of this when a dear friend dumped a ton of information about his depression into our laps. It was 11pm and we were tired and certainly not expecting it in the driveway. As trained counselors and practitioners, we knew that there was nothing to say but, “I’m so sorry you are feeling this way.” He didn’t ask for our help. He wanted empathy. He needed to be heard. We remained quiet and let the moment go. Some might claim this behavior as non-supportive. On the contrary, just BEING there and listening offers a ton of support and any Therapist will stand by this.
Most people are good-natured and they don’t want others to suffer. So, when it comes to our friends and family listening to our woes, they don’t know what to do with us. But they certainly will rally around trying to make us feel better or agree that our partner IS a jerk. We need to accept sadness, rather than fixing it. Friendship is about honoring each other in good times and in bad. If someone is sad and you cannot deal with their emotions, avoid saying, “Hey you shouldn’t feel so bad.” Don’t be a problem-solver-couch-therapist. You can’t fix this. But you can help by just being there to ask what they need from you at this moment. Perhaps it’s just a hug or a glass of water. Let them know that they are safe and you are there to listen.
Sadness is not contagious, although it can sometimes feel that way. Everyone has been around a buzz kill and once noted, casually avoids them. People who are depressed are tough to be around. No matter what you say or think, their depression is on-going and tends to bleed all over. But friendship to someone in need, although not a substitute for therapy, can really help your friend gain clarity and encouragement. Take a breath, make room, put away your tool belt, listen and say, “I’m so sorry you are hurting.” It is not up to you to fix anything. You. Are. Enough.