If you are worried about a friend, it’s okay for you to express your concerns to her/him in a caring and supportive way. It’s important to handle these issues with honesty and respect. This can be a difficult and scary time for you. You might be feeling overwhelmed, as well as emotionally and physically exhausted by your friend’s problems. It’s great that you’re seeking help and support for yourself and your friend.
In a calm and caring way, talk to your friend about the specific things you have seen or felt that have made you worry. Sometimes people aren’t aware that their problems might be affecting others, especially someone who cares about them. People may be embarrassed or afraid to ask for help. Sometimes they feel like they aren’t “strong” if they don’t handle problems completely on their own. They might be grateful for the chance to talk to someone they trust. Below are some suggestions for how you might approach this conversation with your friend.
Share your memories of two or three specific times when you felt concerned, afraid, or uneasy because of your friend’s behavior.
Talk about the feelings you experienced as a result of these events.
Be caring but firm.
Try to do this in a very supportive, non-confrontational way. Here are some suggestions:
- Use “I” statements. For example, “I feel ______ when you _____. I wish you would _______ OR I need you to ________.”
- Avoid accusational “you” statements. For example: “You have to go to class! You’re going to get kicked out of school! You’re losing it!” Say how you feel and are affected rather than blaming your friend.
- Don’t preach, label, judge, or give advice. It won’t help your friend and it will get in the way of listening for both of you.
- Avoid giving simple solutions. For example: If you’d just ______, everything would be fine!” You might think you know the answer to your friend’s problem, but everyone is different. Be flexible and allow room for solutions that can work for your friend.
- Be as objective as possible. Don’t get pulled into an emotional argument.
- Listen without interrupting. It will be easier for your friend to hear what you have to say if you’re willing to listen in return.
- Don’t expect instant results. You have accomplished something if you were able to tell your friend how you feel.
- Try to develop empathy for your friend’s situation. Your friend is trying to cope with her/his problems in the best way that she/he currently knows how.
- Celebrate and reinforce change. Let your friend know when you notice a positive difference as a result of changes he’s/she’s made.
Your friend might get angry or defensive if you call him/her on his/her behavior. He/she might deny there is a problem. Your friend needs as much support and understanding as possible from the people in his/her life.
Remember: you can’t force someone to seek help, change their behaviors, or adjust their attitudes. You will make important progress in honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to go for more information. There is help available for you and your friend, and there is hope. Please contact the University Counseling Center at 216.397.4283 if you would like to further discuss your concerns with a counselor.
Adapted from Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, Inc.