Be There for Your Friends

September 12, 2022

Emily BuehlerFriends rely on each other for emotional support. Maybe a friend didn’t get their dream internship, and they text you about feeling bummed. Or perhaps they’re annoyed at their roommate for borrowing something without asking - again - and they call you to vent. Or maybe they come to your apartment feeling totally devastated after an unexpected breakup. What do you say? How do you help your friend process their emotions and help them feel better? 

First, listen.

Listening will help you understand what your friend is thinking, feeling, and maybe even what type of help they want from you. Do they want advice, or do they just want to vent? Are they angry, sad, frustrated, or scared? Letting them talk will help them process what they’re thinking and feeling. And they might feel better just knowing someone cared enough to listen.

Then, acknowledge and validate.

Explicitly acknowledge your friend’s feelings and ensure they know that whatever they feel is valid. Acknowledging feelings can be as simple as saying, “I see that you’re upset.” You can validate feelings with statements like, “It’s okay to be sad,” or “You have every right to be angry.” Remind your friend that they deserve to have the feelings they have, and don’t let them feel guilty or blamed for their feelings.

Be careful about trying to fix the problem.

Have you ever felt frustrated when someone offered advice you didn’t ask for? If your friend is seeking emotional support, they might appreciate hearing someone say, “I’m sorry. That really sucks,” before getting advice about how to fix the problem. They need a space to express and understand their feelings. Wait for them to ask you for advice, or ask them if they want your advice before offering it.

Lane Bradley

Focus on their feelings.

Elaborating on feelings helps people process them in a way that makes them more manageable, so get your friend talking about their feelings, not just the event that precipitated them. Although it can be effective to ask questions about the event itself, ensure that you also focus on emotions by paraphrasing the feelings you hear your friend expressing, encouraging them to keep talking about them, and asking them questions about their feelings.

Ultimately, there is no “magic bullet” message that will take away all of your friend’s emotional distress. However, you can help others understand their feelings better and put their feelings in perspective, which can make them feel better. If you still struggle to find the right words to say, remember: Just being there and listening can be very helpful.

Dr. Emily Buehler and Lane Bradley 

Dr. Emily Buehler is an Assistant Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. Her research and teaching focus on supportive communication, interpersonal relationships, and communication technologies.

Lane Bradley is a junior studying interpersonal communication at the Brian Lamb School of Communication. He enjoys researching supportive communication and interpersonal relationships and plans to earn a Ph.D. in the future. 

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