Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hello,” you answer.
“What’s up?” asks your friend.
“Oh, nothing much. Just driving to pick up Jacob from his grandparents. What’s up with you?” you inquire.
Your friends unloads...“Well...I just left the office and had a talk with my boss who wants to push up another deadline. But get this, he also put another project on my plate, knowing I am not even done with this one!! Now, I’ve got to get home to cook dinner, do homework with the kids, pack their lunches for tomorrow, baths, laundry and eventually get in bed myself. You know Jerry is working the night shift now so he is no help once the kids are home from school. I am absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed. I just cannot handle one more thing right now.”
Sound like a conversation you may have had with a friend before? If so, what is your response?
Naturally, as a friend may do, your response may include a good ‘ole SCREW YOU to your friend’s boss and several ideas of how to navigate the after work routine. After all, you have been there yourself and know what it is like to be tired and overworked. It is easy to make your friend’s story about same or similar times that you have suffered just like her.
But, your friend never asked for your advice.
It is human nature to filter our emotions and experiences through words, whether verbal/external to others or non-verbal/internal within oneself. Some experiences can trigger an emotional response like crying or yelling due to past trauma, cumulative stress, or just heightened emotions. Everyone responds to stress in a unique way. No matter your friend's stress response, she merely called you to unload what she was feeling and why.
She did not ask for your advice, she may have just been pleading for support.
Support looks like allowing someone to cry on your shoulder or simply being there as someone releases their emotions and you just listen. Support says, "I hear/see/understand you." Healthy boundaries in support ensures that you do not take on anything energetically that is not yours to begin with. Instead, support means that your friend is the master of her journey, not you. As you love your friends (family, colleagues, etc.) you may find that they do ask for support emotionally, physically, monetarily, spiritually, and so forth, but it is up to you to understand your limits and honor your friend’s process of growth and learning. Healthy boundaries for both you and your friend, is a key component of lending support.
Advice on the other hand indicates a judgment call and desire to fix or help the person, even if well-intended. Though judgment and help is also part of human nature, it can leave your friend’s feelings unvalidated and even increase the spiraling thoughts she is already having. Allowing yourself to be the judge of others' journey strips them of their power, leaving you in a position that can be energetically draining and driven by your own ego—afterall, you know best. Sometimes others will directly ask for your advice in areas that they view you as the expert or experienced in.
A simple example of support here is parenthood. You instill values, beliefs, and skill sets within your children as you raise them. Then, there comes a time when you must allow them to fly from the nest and learn on their own, no matter the potential setbacks and perceived failures that will inevitably occur. As a parent it is your job to support your children, not do life for them. The same applies for others in your life. It is your responsibility to live your life and trust that those that you love have the ability and wherewithal to do their best, with a little support along the way. Support those you love within means.
So, back to your phone call, what does this look like in action when your friend rings?
First you are simply going to dial up your listening with empathy and compassion, whilst you dial down your judgment and need to insert yourself. Listening deeply removes the sometimes automatic need to filter through a lens of self and allows your friend to show up authentically. When we foster trust and rapport in our relationships, it is a little easier to hold onto your own power and encourage others to do the same.
Which leads to your next step, know your own boundaries and respect your friend’s boundaries too. Like I mentioned previously, boundaries come in many forms. They can be parameters you need around how much time you spend on something or someone, money you put toward something, or how emotionally available you are for others. Healthy boundaries are essential for all relationships, and can be an excellent role modeling opportunity for others.
Lastly, reflect the emotions you are hearing whilst empowering and instilling trust in your friend’s journey and process. Saying, “your feelings are valid and I trust that you will overcome these obstacles,” puts you in a position of holding healthy boundaries and being a calming, affirming sounding board for your friend.
You must know when to just listen, empower others to use their faculties to overcome the obstacles, and step in for support within means. Just remember, advice and support are two different things!
So I ask again, what is your response?
Would you like support establishing and holding healthy boundaries? We at Wellview would love to support your journey. Click HERE to learn more about the services available to you.
– Casey Edmonds, MPH, CILC, CHWC, CMS, CPT