The New York Times had an interesting article about how friendships, and the act of sharing too much or too often, can be detrimental to your self-esteem.
Friendships are important for promoting self-esteem, but I think the author, Sarah Kershaw, makes an important point. If we look to friends to wallow with us in what-if scenarios and doubt for an extended period of time, our feelings will continue to spiral.
This quote from a college sophomore, Patricia Letayf, caught my attention:
"It's like you want to solve a problem whatever it may be, but the advice of one person never satisfies you and you're constantly on the hunt for more advice," she said. "I think a lot of times you are looking for empathy and you want someone to feel the way you do. You want your feelings to be justified. In the end, I hope to feel better. You want them to say, ‘It's O.K. he dumped you, you failed the test.' You're seeking reassurance."
Comforting a friend doesn't have to mean a nose-dive for both of you.
I've mentioned before that when bad things happen we often don't know what to say. Negative spirals can start very innocently this way. Your friend is upset. You want to comfort her. So, you end up saying how badly you feel for her or jump right to how she can solve her problem.
I liked this quote because it reminded me how important it is to feel understood. When I'm upset, I just want to be heard and for my friend to be supportive as I find the right solution for me. If I need to discuss the solution, I'll ask.
We jump to solving a friend's problem for lots of different reasons: because we think it's what our friend wants; because the solution seems obvious; or because we're not listening.
An alternative strategy:
- Set aside your own agenda (like "I need to help her" or "I know just what to do").
- Listen to what your friend is saying.
- Ask, "What do you need?"
- Do what she says.
You get to be a good friend and next time you have a problem, you get what you need in return.