“He made me feel awkward. I didn’t know what to say.” – Sometimes, we don’t understand why a close friend can evoke such strong anxiety in us when they confide in us with a personal problem. The weight of someone else’s difficulties can push down on us with tremendous force, especially if we are unprepared for it. Our subsequent reaction to a close friend can be a disappointment. In this article, you will find 7 common habits we tend to have in such situations and a few tips on how to replace them with more helpful ways.
Habit #1 – Giving Advice
The most common response to advice is “Yes, but…”. Often, it seems that when someone comes to us with a problem, they are seeking advice. However, unless the person explicitly asks for advice, it may not be the case. It’s easy to fall into the idea that every problematic situation requires a specific solution, which when discovered and implemented, will make the problem disappear. Whether we like it or not, people don’t function like computers, and life isn’t a few lines of code. Therefore, don’t try to “debug” people and avoid providing quick solutions. Trust me, if the solution is simple, the person will find it themselves.
It is very important to understand the deeper nature of what is happening if someone close to you confides in you about a situation they cannot handle. First of all, they have chosen you among many people, which means they trust you more than everyone else they have not confided in. At the same time, this may indicate that they believe you are capable of understanding their situation. Show them this first before you start looking for solutions. Simple phrases like “I understand you” often do more than “you should”.
Habit #2 – Look for the Cause/Perpetrator
“Everything is [insert cause’s name]’s fault. You wouldn’t be suffering like this if it weren’t for [insert cause].” Even though it’s okay to sometimes vent about someone or something, it’s better to leave the blame-finding to detectives, lawyers, and judges. Even though the perpetrator may be clear from a logical standpoint, naming them may not be helpful in any way. Especially unnecessary and hurtful can be in situations where the person caused their own problems by their mistake. It is very likely that they are aware of their guilt, and pointing out this fact unnecessarily is like rubbing salt in an open wound.
Instead of focusing excessively on the past, I recommend focusing on the present and on the person sitting across from you (or the person you are holding hands with, or mentally embracing from a distance). We do not hold the past in our hands, but we can still influence what is happening in the present. The problematic situation in which the person finds themselves is never more important than the person themselves. Therefore, do not forget that it is much more important to understand how they felt in the situation than to uncover the details of their story.
Habit #3 – Talk too much
Many people tend to remain silent when someone confides in them, while excessive talking is also a common reaction. Psychologists sometimes refer to such behavior as a defense mechanism that helps us avoid being emotionally affected by the other person’s problems. It is good to ask ourselves whether we are focusing more on our own feelings than on the other person’s feelings during every conversation.
Sometimes less is more, and this often applies to words. When a close person confides in you, remember that it is them who needs to express their thoughts. Your own thoughts may be relevant, but it is important to carefully evaluate the situation and determine whether the timing and place are appropriate.
Habit #4 – Point out that others have it worse
Many people in the world are worse off, but also much better off than ourselves. The fact that it is so has inspired many activists, but it does not add to a person’s life energy when they are in a difficult situation. In a confidential conversation between two people, it is a shame to focus on someone else, especially if that person has no special significance to them, is not a role model or an inspirational authority.
It is difficult to focus on someone else’s problems when we cannot handle our own. Similarly, the person who confides in you may feel the same way. That is probably why they hope your attention is focused on them and not on someone else. Do not be afraid to stay with them in their trouble and do not run away from the person who is with you to people who are miles away from the situation.
Habit #5 – Lecture
Moralizing and lecturing unfortunately has not resulted in a positive change in anyone. The result of such lecturing is usually a feeling of failure. Ideally, this feeling of failure can trigger a desire for change. However, when a person is weak and confides in you, they often do not have the energy for another feeling of failure. Few of those who seek help are also looking for a parenting approach. Do not apply a parental principle to someone who is an equal in conversation with you. This will protect your relationship and also open the way for help.
When your loved one is going through a difficult time, negative impulses are the last thing they need. Current conversations can also build future trust. Instruction, even if morally justified, can evoke a sense of shame in a person, which reduces the chances of them confiding in you again.
Habit #6 – Talk About Yourself
In a conversation with a close person in difficult times, you may come across a situation that will be very similar to one that you have experienced yourself. When sharing your own experiences, you must be careful. Even though their story may have many similar characteristics to yours, it will never be possible to talk about an identical situation. Your life had a different path, and different situations happened to you that determined that you got out of a difficult situation in a different way. Even though you found the key to desired happiness back then, the same approach could mean an unpredictable disaster for your loved one.
If the time comes and your loved one expresses interest, tell them about your experience – you don’t have to hide it. However, it is important that they themselves have the freedom to choose what they want to take from your story into their own life. Often it is something completely different than what you would expect.
Habit #7 – Don’t Trivialize
Perhaps the most common habit in a confidential conversation is the attempt to minimize the problem. It can be manifested in statements like: “It’s nothing…”, or “At least you’re healthy!” or “You’re lucky it’s not worse!”. Sometimes a person’s problem sitting in front of you can really seem like a trivial matter. The fact that it looks like that from your point of view doesn’t necessarily mean that it really is. In a deeper conversation, it often turns out that a banal problem hides behind it a whole history of other injuries that led to the fact that the patience cup overflowed, and the last drop caused a catastrophe.
It is more useful than judging the objectivity of what is troubling the person who has confided in you to understand the context that caused what they are going through. This gives you a good opportunity to show empathy, which is the basis of any confidential conversation.