Over the years, I have met many different people. I have lived in 3 different countries, and travelled many places. This has given me the opportunity to experience and interact with many people from different backgrounds, cultures, socio-economic status, and countries. Through interacting with different people, I have noticed that people are the same in certain ways, but different in many others.
Whenever we interact with people, it is good to understand their cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. Everyone’s lives are different. You might have struggles, but others would have too. It does not make anyone’s struggles lesser than another.
Whenever I am going through a hard time, I am very picky with people I choose to approach. Why? Because I know who says things I need to hear at that moment and who will make me feel worse. My friends in Singapore vs my friends in US react very differently when I go to them in times of needs.
In Singapore, many of us have heard growing up different versions of “Don’t cry, it’s OK”, “Aiya, don’t think about it”, “Why you feel stress? Don’t need to feel stress”, “Just let it go”, “Don’t show weakness”, “Don’t share your family’s problems to outsiders”, or “Suck it up”. Hearing these messages growing up has made us become people who don’t know how to show empathy towards others. We might feel their pain, but we don’t know how to respond to it.
In US however, due to a very different culture, they give hugs, they just listen, they might share similar experiences to validate your feelings. They might even just be there for you physically. The message they send is “I am here for you”, “You are not alone”. However, this is not for all, this is what my closest friends have done. Going to the US has taught me how to be a better friend.
I think that being a good friend is not easy. Even as a Psychologist, sometimes I struggle with words to say to my friends. Sometimes I don’t have the capacity to be a good friend. When my friends come to me almost every day with problems, it can get exhausting for me some times. When my friends are mean to me, not because they want to hurt me but because they are in so much pain, it’s not easy for me to be nice too.
However, here are some things that I have learned.
When a friend is in crisis or feeling low. Sometimes they might not say the nicest things or sometimes we might not know what to say. Take a pause before doing anything at all. This might even mean putting your phone down before responding to them.
Be aware of your own emotional state.
In order to be a good friend, you need to have space to listen to them, to hold their pain in the moment that they are talking to you. If you are not in a good space or not have the capacity in the moment. Gently apologise and maybe take a break before returning to their text. If you really need to respond to them, ensure to engage in self-care after.
Listen and be present
When your friend approached you, they are probably looking for something from you. This might be reassurance, it might be validation, or maybe just to vent everything that they have at the moment.
Don’t minimise their problems + don’t make it about you
A big mistake that others might do is making the other person’s problems look small. If a friend comes to you to talk about something and they are all worked up, they probably feel horrible. We might make the mistake of saying “Yeah, that sucks, BUT let me tell you about my problem. I have it so much worse than you. My family blah blah blah” or “At least you are still employed….blah blah blah….”. What this does is make the other person feel shittier. It makes the other person feel like you don’t care about them and you are invalidating their feelings.
If you want to share your story to let them know you understand and went through similar experiences, that’s OK. Just be careful how you word it and never never make them feel like their feelings are less important than yours.
Only give advice if they ask for it
As friends, we want to help, we want to see our friends stop suffering. We want to take that away from them. That’s the compassionate nature of our souls. However, be careful when giving advice. We don’t want to jump into problem solving mode and invalidate their emotions. Remember, most people don’t want to hear solutions at the start. They want to feel heard first. If you want to give advice, check with them if they want any. Otherwise, the best thing you can do for them is LISTEN and VALIDATE.
Sometimes friends might not be able to give us what we need, that’s why we look for a counsellor or psychologist who are trained to listen to us and allow for us time to talk about ourselves and process our problems with us.
Let’s make the world a better place one person at a time! 😀 If you have any questions or comments, please post it on the facebook thread, or simply drop me an email at email@example.com or WhatsApp us here
Till next time!