7 Ways To Help Out A Friend

Know when your friend needs help, and just what to say to her in times of need.
by Owen Santos   |  May 4, 2010
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"It's okay." Or "It's alright." Sometimes those words are not enough to ease the pain of a friend in need. But sometimes, too, it's not easy to come up with the appropriate things to say. Taking on the role of a supportive friend may demand more from you than just a shoulder to cry on. Here's what you can do.

  1. The drama: Your friend just lost a cherished family member or friend.
    Her parents woke her one night to let her know that her older sister died in a car crash. A cement truck lost control and slammed into the car her sister was driving. She didn't even make it to the hospital. "Shocked and distraught" weren't even close to describing how your friend felt. Aside from you, her sister was her best friend-a confidante who had a wealth of advice for her, and sometimes even for you. Having her around was important to your pal as she had many things and questions she couldn't bring up with her parents. They had a lot of fun together. Now that her sister's gone, she feels that a major part of her is gone too.

    The script:
    "I/We miss her too."
    "Do you want to talk about it?"
    "Would you like to talk to someone else with a similar experience?"
    "Let's do something in her honor."
    "Let's do something she would have appreciated."

    The ad lib:
    To get the healing process going, see to it that your friend allows herself time to grieve her loss. She doesn't have to feel guilty about that. However, she'll have to give herself a break-instead of continuously focusing on her grief, it's alright to treat herself to a movie, a massage, some salon time, lunch or dinner out, a sporting activity, or even some quiet time with a good book. Part of the healing process is allowing herself to enjoy things she normally enjoys doing. Encourage her to talk about it either with you, her family, or other people who have been similarly bereaved. There's no need for her to make major changes in her life. When it comes to birthdays, holidays, and other milestones and traditions, she and her family can prepare for them by continuing old practices or creating new ones like doing symbolic acts to celebrate her sister's life.

  2. The drama: Her parents have separated.
    Your friend is depressed, as she still doesn't understand why her parents have separated. She loves her dad as much as she does her mom, but now he has left the family. She's taking it personally. She can't understand why her dad would leave them just like that and why it seems her mom is okay with it as well. She's resentful towards her father, and she feels he owes them even just a bit of his love and attention. Though she's protective of her mom, she feels resentment towards her too because she doesn't seem to be doing anything to get themselves back together.

    The script:
    "It's not your fault. You didn't cause them to break up."
    "Sometimes, some people can't really work it out anymore."
    "If they haven't talked to you yet, why not try to talk to them about this situation?"
    "They're most likely hurt by the breakup, too. Give them time to deal with this first."
    "Give yourself time to relax. Let's go watch a movie/play (a sport)!"

    The ad lib:
    It's quite difficult, most times, to explain why couples break up and leave each other. Suggest she have a heart-to-heart talk (not a confrontation) with both parents on separate occasions. She can tell them how the separation is affecting her and her siblings. Remind your friend that parents are also people who have to deal with certain rigors of life outside of their roles as Mom and Dad. Depending on how resilient her parents are, it may take a while before they get their bearings back. Her mom and dad may be having a difficult time dealing with the breakup as well. In fact, they may even feel guilty about letting this happen to their family. In the meantime, continue being her supportive friend who's always ready to listen. Your life as friends doesn't have to change drastically because of this situation. Doing things you usually do with her can even give her a sense of normalcy to balance the recent "abnormal" events in her life.

  3. The drama: Your friend has a learning disability
    She feels she's the most bobo girl in class. Both of you know she's not dumb-she's actually smart-but her grades in a few subjects aren't even close to average. It's making her feel frustrated. In fact, she's actually thinking of quitting school because she's embarrassed at being so dull.

    The script:
    "You're not dumb."
    "I'm/We're still your friend/s."
    "Let's study together. I'll/We'll help you with your lessons."

    The ad lib:
    If she hasn't been diagnosed yet for having a learning disability, suggest she see the guidance counselor for starters so she can get tested. If testing services for the learning disabled are not available in school, the guidance counselor can probably give referrals to groups that have them. Once the learning disability is confirmed, arm yourselves with information about this condition. (There are at least three forms: dyslexia, a learning disability in reading; dysgraphia, a learning disability in writing; dyscalcula, a learning disability in math.) Her family and teachers should be in on it, too. Let her know she's not stupid or weird. It's just that having a learning disability means her brain is processing things differently-not all information arrive properly to where they're needed, and not always in the right form. It's a condition that she may have for life, but it need not bog her down. She'll only need to learn to focus on her strengths, or learn to strengthen her weaknesses. To learn how, she may need a bit of special education, or simply more patient teachers, family, and friends. Tell her not to sweat it. A learning disability does not have to be a hindrance to a happy, productive, and successful life. A number of famous people became successful even if they had learning disabilities: physicist Albert Einstein, actor Tom Cruise, performer Cher, former UK prime minister Winston Churchill, inventor Thomas Edison, basketball star Magic Johnson, writer Agatha Christie, and actress Whoopi Goldberg-just to name a few. She's in pretty good company!

  4. The drama: Your friend's family just went bankrupt.
    Her father invested a lot of money in a restaurant he put up with a couple of his friends. He also plunked down some funds into a few more business ventures he felt were sure money-makers. The problem was that restaurants take time to make money, plus he and his partners hardly had any sound management and financial backgrounds to make sure their businesses sold more and spent less. Also, the world economy was plummeting, with exchange rates reaching all-time highs. Top that with terrorism fears and the possible recurrence of SARS. It was not a good time to be in business. The businesses closed down in no time, and they were deeply in debt. Her family had nice cars, nice clothes, everyone went to good schools, and were used to traveling abroad on a regular basis. All these will now have to change, and your friend is worried.

    The script:
    "Your family's money is not important to me/us-you are."
    "I'm still your friend, whatever happens."
    "So what if we have to scrimp a little? That doesn't change our friendship!"
    "Let's think of something fun and different to do."

    The ad lib:
    While this feels like a major crisis, your friend has to realize it doesn't have to be the end of the world. The traveling, the nice, expensive clothes and cars, they can do without for now. So if they lose those, she shouldn't worry. As for schools, allowances and the like, your friend can be pretty sure her parents won't have to ask her and her siblings to give them up. They'll find ways to keep them there. Sure, she'll probably have to make some sacrifices-less or no movies, less or no more eating out and the like-but that doesn't mean you and your friend can't have fun together anymore. For instance, you can hang out at each other's homes more often-bring some of your videos, and spend a weekend-afternoon watching them. Come June, take advantage of some of the extra-curricular activities in school. She wants to earn some extra cash for herself? Spend time together making cookies or fashion accessories you can both sell to friends.

  5. The drama: your friend is going through a rough breakup.
    She and her boyfriend had a good thing going. In fact, many people saw them as the perfect couple. But, actually, things have not been going well between the two of them lately. She is about to break up with her boyfriend, or she is about to get dumped-if it hasn't happened already. Your friend is distraught. As her closest friend, you run to her aid.

    The script:
    "Love, and breaking up, can really hurt sometimes. It may feel unbearable now, but you'll weather it well."
    "I'll/We'll always be here for you."
    "Do you want to talk about it?"
    "Don't worry, there's nothing wrong with you."
    "It's okay to feel bad about the breakup."
    "There's one other person more important than him-you."

    The ad lib:
    Suggest a cooling off period between the two of them. This way, they'll prevent any chance of saying hurtful things to one another they may regret later on. Then allow her to feel what she needs to-it's quite natural to feel extremely sad and lonely during these times. It won't be easy for her to just forget about the whole thing fresh from the breakup. Give her time to get over the guy. Don't berate her for any mistakes you think she may have committed. This is one surefire way of making her feel worse. Mending a broken heart is a difficult thing to do. Tell her to give herself time to grieve. Then help her move on by encouraging her to talk about it later on. Objects, letters, gifts related to the ended relationship? Suggest she get them out of her sight so she won't be reminded of the breakup. Get rid of them, or offer to keep them if she really doesn't want to throw them away. Get into sports or exercise together, take a day trip somewhere, treat her to something nice, go with her to the salon and let both of you get makeovers. Encourage her to do something fun she would never have done with her guy around.

  6. The drama: Your friend is being bullied.
    The Mean Girls of your batch have branded your friend as one of The Geeks in the worst possible way. They taunt her for being a nerd (well, she is smart), for being mousy (she's kind of shy), and for speaking funny (she has a lisp, and she has braces to boot!). Since the bullying started, your friend has kept to herself more. Some are being bullied by this group for other reasons and through different ways. You believe bullying a person for any reason must not be condoned. You want to help your friend.

    The script:
    "I know I can't tell you to just brush it off or not to feel bad about it. But remember that being bullied (or taunted or teased) is not your fault. There's nothing wrong with you."
    "Being bullied is wrong. Your looks, beliefs, mannerisms do not give anyone the right to make fun of you or hurt you."
    "I care a lot about you. Your safety and peace of mind are important. Please consider bringing this up with our class adviser/guidance counselor/your parents."
    "Just walk away, and ignore them."
    "Don't give them what they want-walk tall and proud."
    "Even if you feel like hitting back or getting back at them some other way, don't. This is never a good solution and may make things worse for you."

    The ad lib:
    While being taunted or teased may not seem to be as big a deal as being physically hurt, its effects can be just as bad or worse. In fact, it can be the scariest thing in the world. Bullies gain power when they succeed in upsetting or hurting other people, particularly people whom they feel are weaker than them. They gain power when their targets allow themselves to be victimized by their words or actions. Help your friend understand that it is not her fault. She doesn't have the problem-they do. Others have no right to put her down no matter how "weird" they perceive her to be. Bullies are usually too much into themselves and are actually insecure people. They make themselves feel good by finding fault in others and playing those faults to the hilt. What to do? She doesn't have to change her whole life just to make the bullying stop. Advise your friend to avoid being alone before and after school hours and during recess and lunch breaks. Being part of a group can sometimes discourage bullies from singling out their target. Even if they still bully her, it won't be as difficult to simply walk past them because being part of a group may help make her feel more secure. Encourage her to stand up for herself, but try not to voice your disappointment if she feels she's not strong enough to do it yet. Try standing up for her, too, the next time she encounters the bullies. Suggest she see an adult she trusts, especially when things get really unbearable. For some, "making sumbong" is the most embarrassing thing anyone can do and may worsen the situation for them. But this is an important move to consider especially when her studies, self-esteem, and safety are at stake. Offer to accompany her when she decides to bring this up with an adult.

  7. The drama: Your friend is being pressured to bully another person.
    She happens to have more than one barkada-not an uncommon occurrence in high school. However, the other group-a tad more "outgoing" than the group you're in-is pressuring her to join them in their regular jaunts of making fun of and bullying the mousiest girl in the batch. Your friend is apprehensive about, and actually disapproves of, this plan and confides in you about it.

    The script:
    "You don't have to do it if you don't want to."
    "Try doing what you want, for a change."
    "I'm/We're still here for you."
    "We can still have fun together (without putting anybody down)."
    "Let's go wall climbing/play badminton/play paintball instead."

    The ad lib:
    Sounds like a no-brainer, right? You say, what the group is doing is wrong and she should take no part in it. But some people can't actually deal with this, and understandably so. Some carry the traits for susceptibility to peer pressure, among others: low self-esteem, shaky ties with friends (which may cause fear of losing those friends, another trait), low self-confidence, fear of her friends, poor school performance, depression, lack of direction in life. If your friend feels strongly against bullying the Class' Shrinking Violet, and her other friends are still pressuring her to do it (or try smoking, drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other act she is not prepared to do), help her deal with it by: 1) helping strengthen her stand against the detestable act; 2) helping her visualize and verbalize what she can tell the other group the next time they put the pressure on her (doesn't have to be dramatic or confrontational. A simple "Never mind na lang" or "I don't want to bother with this" will do. No other explanations needed.); 3) helping her realize she doesn't have to put up with the pressure just to be part of that group; 4) helping her realize she still has another group of buds who care about her and will not resort to harming others or themselves just to have fun. As many counselors and experts say, "Peer pressure gains power over you only if you let it." So don't.
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Owen Santos
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