Art by Christine Nelson
In the last week alone, I have had a friend deal with death in her family, another friend deal with a breakup and an additional friend deal with the pressures of life after college. So as I grappled with how to effectively be supportive, I had to ask myself, how can I be a good friend? How can I show my friends that I am here for them?
In college, it’s common to come into contact with people dealing with their own trials and tribulations, trying to find themselves in one respect or another. As students from all walks of life come together from different backgrounds, they try to develop and find a way to be supportive and understanding to those they consider friends, peers and acquaintances. But what if your own way of supporting someone isn’t as supportive and appropriate as you thought? Better yet, what if our individual ways of being supportive to others does little more than just make our friends feel worse and impact their situations negatively?
In order to be effective at supporting, we need to consider that, “Support may be more effective when it’s invisible. As the support-giver, sharing your own experiences is not always helpful, ‘Show, don’t tell’ is not just good advice for writing,” according to the June 4, 2014 Psychology Today article, “What Kinds of Support are Most Supportive” by Juliana Breines.
As I aim to be a supportive friend and peer to those around me, I always remember to be considerate of others and take their backgrounds and their preferences into consideration. It is easy to impose one’s own philosophies on grief, pain and healing onto others, but maybe there is an easier way to help all parties in such a situation. You may like grand gestures when dealing with life’s tribulations, but others may not, so you should always approach these sensitive topics focused on the other person’s needs.
Breines writes in her article that “support may be most effective … when the giver uses indirect and unobtrusive methods and doesn’t overemphasize the giver/receiver distinction.” So next time your friend needs you, just be a friend and don’t try to be their savior. Additionally, don’t try to share your own thoughts on how they might feel or your own similar experiences. Chances are you don’t know how they feel, simply because you aren’t them. The true power of silence is often overlooked, so listen and be attentive.
Furthermore, when you are looking to support your friend, make sure you are playing an active part in their life. It is easy as college students to passively say, “I’m here for you,” but the question remains: Are you really going to be there for them? If you are, I say show up and actually be there for your friend. When my friends need me, I invite them to do chores with me, go out to dinner (my treat) or I go to their house and help in any way I can, even if that means cleaning their room.
“Reach[ing] out and spend[ing] time with the person in crisis,” sometimes goes a long way, as outlined in “How to Support a Friend In Crisis,” an article provided by Suffolk University’s Counseling center. The article from Suffolk University also reminds individuals to “help [our friends in need of support] connect to supportive resources on campus and in the community,” in addition to knowing your “own limits” when trying to support a friend.
As Pepperdine approaches the end of the school year, we need to remember that there are effective ways to support. 2016 is still young, so let’s make a change in each others’ lives. Let’s support each other.
Follow Ashton Cane on Twitter: @ashtmcnary