By Robert Leahy, PhD
When you feel down, you want your friends to understand you, support you and encourage you. You don’t want to feel alone. Friends are there to help you, but if you don’t play your cards right, you might risk losing the very support you need. And that will really bring you down.
Be honest and ask yourself if any of the following statements sound like you:
- I continually complain about how bad I feel.
- I complain about how others treat me unfairly.
- I take a negative view of the world in general.
- I don’t ask my friends about how they are doing.
- I monopolize the conversation.
- I ask for reassurance—over and over again.
- I reject reassurance once I get it.
If you do relate to these, don’t worry—you aren’t alone. That’s just what people do when they’re depressed, angry and anxious. But when you feel really down, you may be on a negative track that brings everyone around you down too. By saying that, I’m not trying to make you feel worse. I’m simply suggesting you can change your behavior to be more rewarding to your friends. You need your friends—and they need you.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Validation Trap
Sometimes you think you need your friends to agree with you and completely understand everything you say. But this isn’t true. Validation isn’t perfect, but a caring ear will help no matter what. When you are talking about how bad things are, make sure to indicate you know you are complaining and you value her support. For example, try this: “I know I’ve been complaining a lot, but I wanted to just talk with you because I value your support.” Validate your validator. Your friends need to know that you know they care. Also, make sure to take turns—yield the floor to your friend to discuss anything on her mind. This gives your friend a chance to be heard, because chances are she also needs support.
Don’t Get Stuck As a Victim
It may be true that you have been treated unfairly and you are a victim. But you are more than a victim. You are a complete, vibrant person who can make choices about what happens now and what will happen in the future. Balance your complaints with how you are going to move forward. Your friends understand that what happened was unfair, but they need to hear how you can rise above being a victim. You can say, “I know he treated me unfairly, but I am going to take control of my life.”
If You Talk About Problems, Talk About Solutions
Your friends are on your side—but they want to know you are on your side too. If you talk about how lonely you are, then talk about what you are doing to solve that problem. Talk about the connections, activities and plans you have to make it better. You can say, “I’ve been feeling lonely since the breakup, feeling bad about myself. But I’m also thinking about what I can do to make things better—Internet dating, volunteer work, getting out more.”
Don’t Sound Like Your Own Worst Enemy
You might find yourself putting yourself down—”I’m a loser.” Your friends don’t want to hear you are a loser—after all, they actually like you. And labeling yourself only makes you dwell more on how bad things are. Instead of sounding like your own worst enemy, try to sound like your own best friend. You might say, “I’ve been putting myself down since the breakup, but I realize we all make mistakes, and I need to be more supportive of myself.” Here’s the great thing about sounding like your own best friend: You begin to realize you can be supportive of yourself and you can find options. Your real friends will be thrilled to support you in your self-help. The more you support yourself, the more your friends will want to be there for you. You never go wrong by being your best friend when talking to your best friend.
What’s the take-home message in all of this? You need your friends, but your friends need to know you are on your side—and that you understand their support can’t be taken for granted. If you sound like your own best friend, you will always have the friends you really need.
Robert L. Leahy, PhD is the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City and clinical professor of psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School. He has served as the president of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy, the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy and the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He received the Aaron T. Beck Award for Outstanding Contributions in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. His most recent book is Beat the Blues
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