I had a cringe-worthy moment when I saw a friend post something on Facebook about the kind of bad week she was having. She was looking for support and maybe a little guidance to get her through a couple of storms. A few friends commented with some affirmations: “you’re doing great! Keep your head up! You can do it!”
Look, I get it. You want to say something. You want to help. The first thing inclination on how to be positive and excitable to make the hurting party smile a little bit is an affirmation that comes straight from the sticker you got on your homework in second grade.
Here’s why affirmations like that don’t work: they are distant, cold and they don’t mean a darn thing. If it is a phrase that would come screaming out of the mouths of a high school cheerleading team, it’s probably not going to make her feel better about her very real problem, insecurity, or fear.
It takes practice, but I’ve learned from some incredible women I’ve had the fortune to be around, in how to be positive, and to re-frame those positive messages so they sound hopeful, encouraging, and full of some tactical support.
Normalize it. Feelings are hard to talk about no matter what age you are, so the very first thing we can do for a friend is normalize her feelings when she is able to express them.
Try: “It’s pretty normal to have that feeling in this situation.”
Meet them where they are. When a friend says, “I feel so alone,” or “I really want to give up,” that is actually a clue for you as their friend – they have told you where they are. Instead of trying to pump them up to another level, you can crouch down and meet them where they are instead.
Try: “It’s not fun to feel that way. Is there something we can do together that would make you smile?”
Let it sit with them. A good friend wants to see their hurting friend back on their feet as soon as possible, so this one can be hard. As uncomfortable as bad feelings are, sometimes your friend wants to sit in them. She may want to understand them better, or she might not be ready to do anything else.
Try: “It’s probably so hard to know why this happened. I have faith that we will understand all of this one day soon.”
Positive vibes only. When it’s time, your friend will need some positive encouragement from you. Here’s how to be positive, positive, supportive and helpful without picking up pom-poms and jumping in the air.
Try: “You’re right, it’s going to be hard. I really think you can do it though, I know how strong you are.”
Have a teamwork mentality. When you’re talking to your friend, make sure she knows you’re in it together. You can use particular words that will let her know that she’s not alone without having to refer to yourself at all (after all, this is her problem, and you’re there for support).
Try: “How can we look at this in a positive way?” or “What can we do together that would make you feel better?”
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