Supporting your struggling friend without hurting their feelings

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Helping a struggling friend without hurting their feelings. If your friend is struggling, don't be afraid to sit down and offer to talk.

By Dr. Joan Owade,

COLUMN

▪ How could I make her speak out without hurting her feelings? I kept fighting the thoughts

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Caution: “Linda name is hypothetical used for confidentiality purposes”

Recently, I went out with one of my friends just to chitchat and catch up. It’s been a while ever since we met. So, we embarked on different conversations as we waited for the waitress to bring our favorite juice brand. However, it took me long to notice the paleness from Linda’s face. She looked very sad and teary. One could notice that something was bothering her. However much she tried to smile along, this was not the lady I’ve known for so many years. She was always jovial, happy and a pace setter when it comes to brightening any occasion. “What could be bothering my friend”? I kept asking inwardly.Well, we continued chatting, from one topic to the other. We moved from the interesting scenes surrounding presidential elections in Kenya, talking about our families, and my stubborn daughter who’s back for holidays, she asked me about my new place of work and whether I’ve met new friends, and finally narrowing down to uncommon topic which never featured in our conversations before….

However much Linda played happy, I realized that she wasn’t the jovial girlfriend I’ve known in the past years. Being an extrovert, I realized that for the first time, I was doing much of the talking while she listened attentively, with her hands crossed next to her chin and her eyes starring straight to mine. This was not the Linda I’ve known. It was evident something was deeply hurting her, yet she was not ready to talk. How could I make her speak out without hurting her feelings? I kept fighting the thoughts.

For a moment, I was tempted to ask her what could be silently eating her up, but I constantly refrained from that temptation just in case she broke out in tears. For record purposes, I’m not good in calming teary people. However much am an extrovert, when I see someone crying, tears starts rolling down my chicks uncontrollably. I began shivering not knowing how I was to comfort my friend in case the worst happens. This was going to be the most challenging task for me. To keep Linda at bay from crying, I resorted to creating as many stories as possible, hoping that this would calm her situation. But I was wrong, the more I talked to her, the more my friend became more dull. Her situation wasn’t getting better. For a moment I wished that, if she could only open up to me, things would better. I often heard my friends saying that, “a problem shared is half solved”. I really wanted us to reach this moment, just in case she uncontrollably broke out in tears in my prescence.

Wah! This was the most challenging task for me. I ran out of stories but kept a close eye contact just to see her reactions. I didn’t know what else to do just to make my friend feel better. I posed for a moment, and a perfect idea was birthed. Being a motivational speaker, I created a situation and found myself shifting the conversations to a different route …

Looking straight into her eyes, I poised a question. “Linda, do you know people are so wicked? Do you know lately, it’s very difficult to find someone you would freely confide in without him/her being judgmental? Do you know most people die silently in pain, yet in social media their life speaks differently? Do you understand why people no longer opens up to each other amidst problems and pains? Gossiping has become so rampant, and before, you discover, you’re the next theme in a gathering of friends?”, Linda, this world is unfair!

Alas! Instead, my friend broke down in tears. The worst thing I dreaded was finally happening right before my eyes. I pulled up a handkerchief from my bag and handed it over to her with my hands shaking terribly. My legs became paralysed, while my heart beat throbbing like never before. I regretted having moved with Linda alone. I swear, had I known this was bound to happen, I would have postponed the date. My heart was throbbing so fast and for a moment I just glanced at her. Frankly speaking, I literally do not know how to calm down a tearing person. This is a weakness I’ve never disclosed publicly. People think that I’m a strong woman because of how bodly and confidently I appear. But truth be told, I’m the weakest emotionally. Small things makes me cry, but of cause in my closet where none will spot my weakness. Being the last born twins in my family (especially me), I really loved being pampered and shown much care. I always found myself in situations where I’m the one to be comforted and not vis versa. Sincerely, no one ever taught me how to calm down a crying person. Wah! I didn’t know how to comfort Linda, yet I could see through her eyes this is what she needed.

For a moment, I kept quiet while looking at Linda in dismay. I was wondering what could have triggered tears from the strongest lady I knew. Her tears were uncontrollably flowing down her chicks, and no amount of words would keep her calm. I kept telling her that all would be well, but it’s as if my words meant nothing. Finally, I gathered myself and told her to forgive me in case I might have mentioned anything during our conversations that triggered or reminded her of anything in the past. I apologized for being so talkative without giving her attention. I confessed to her that I had realized she was tensed and something was eating her up! And I just wanted her to be happy! That triggered her tears during our conversations afresh. I apologized for being too talkative without allowing her an opportunity to respond. I told her that I had realized she was down, and my intention was to keep her happy!

Linda extended towards my seat and we hugged tightly. She moved back to her seat, and while glancing at me, lighter smile popped from her face amidst the teary eyes. To me this was a sigh of relief! Taking a deep breath, she said, “Joan, you’re such a funny human Being. You do not know when to be serious or joke. You take things so lightly and it’s hard for you to notice when one is breaking. I think I need to teach you how to grow up.” Wah! This was so deep to me, but I kept quiet lest I destructed her in anyway. What I did, I pulled my glass 🥂 towards hers and told her cheers to the funny friend you got, and she smiled again…

Realizing that she was not as tensed as before, I used the opportunity to ask her if she would share with me what made her cry. I told her that should it turn out that I was the cause of her condition, I was ready to apologize. Linda smiled again!

Well, slowly she was opening up. Linda told me how she had been dealing with a lot of bad experiences since childhood. Mark you, we are both in 40s, and Linda had never shared any bad experience from her past. All I knew was this young humble lady who grew up in wealth, and the first born amongst her two other brothers. One of her brother had moved to the US while their last born was pursuing a Master program in Canada. The stories that emanated from her side was full of happy endings unlike my dark past. And now, here is Linda talking of worst experiences in the past. Silently, I wondered if rich people also faced worse situations, but I was the obedient friend ready not to interfere. Mark you, we’ve been friends for close to 10 years and Linda never mentioned anything related to sad experiences in any of our past conversations.

She shared with me how she faced rejections right from childhood. She told me how she had to learn how to live with her monster step mother who really mistreated them after the demise of her wealthy parents. The people from her step mom’s grabbed most of the properties they had, and hadn’t it been a muzungu elder, who came to their local church, heard their story and decided to adopt her two brothers who were in primary 4 by then, life would have turned out differently. This was the first time I was hearing such breaking stories from Linda. She talked of the bitter experiences she often faced from her step mom’s relatives, talked of betrayals from the friends she thought we’re so dear to her, she mentioned of the heartbreaks, and the recent one which resonated after one of her friends feeding her husband with lies about her. She told me that her husband never gave her room to defend or explain herself, and at this moment she began tearing again!

Wah! “Earth is hard”, I thought to myself. Linda has always been my counselor, my number one cheer leader, my comforter and source of strength. In the last 10 years of our friendship, she was always the strong girl comforting me at my lowest. I easily poured out my heart to her whenever I was stressed up, and in deed she constantly played that role perfectly well. She always ensured I was happy!

As fate would have it, now it was my turn to comfort my friend but literally, I did not know what to say or do. I told you that, ” I’m the most weakest person emotionally, and the least I can do, is to cry along with a friend when she’s breaking”

Do you want to know what happened next?

Part II Loading…

By Dr. Joan Owade Adongo, PhD.

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