It took almost half my life to figure out that when a friend is breaking down, the best thing I can do (after the bear hug) is shut up and listen.
Really listen, with ears and heart.
I have gotten it wrong a thousand times. Rushing in to rescue, refute, or add three cents, and “up” thoughts. To death.
Almost ashamed to share this case in point from a few years ago:
Her: I think I’m depressed.
Me: Have you written in your gratitude journal?
Her: I think I’m broken
Me: No you’re not. This is just a moment. You’ll feel better tomorrow.
Her: No, I won’t. I’m a hot mess.
Me: Are you PMSing?
Her: (gargoyle glare)
When someone is having a full-on melt-down, shutting up or sitting on my hands doesn’t come naturally. Guess you could say, I’m a (recovering) fixer, or as my daughter jokes, one who rushes in, with commanding nobody-move gusto, to mend or “mother” a troubling situation (not an individual, mind you, but the WHOLE situation, she says).
I own that, but I have good intentions. I only want what’s best. What’s wrong with that? I used to rationalize. But, who’s best? I barely have my own answers, let alone anyone else’s. Barely get that mysterious alchemy that causes one thing to break down so another can be born, and how it’s usually something better.
Besides, sometimes life just sucks, in random rotation, and we muddle through pain, upsets, getting over, getting through, and lying down until we can get up.
Does clarity and growth always come via dark night of the soul stuff? I don’t know, but that flow is familiar. Breaking down, building up, and seeing who still loves me. Not so much needing rescue when emotionally shipwrecked or to have the oars snatched out of my hands when I’m rowing my boat down a rocky river as wanting someone there on the shore with a warm blanket, change of clothes and thermos full of tea to listen to my frustration about the river having its way with me.
Now I know to listen to friends in crisis, watch for signs, take any silent action that says I’m-here-for-you—hugs, hand squeezes, encouraging smiles, and wordless prayer. That only after he pauses or stares at me like it’s my turn now, am I supposed to offer commentary, a voodoo doll (and pins), or pledge a game of laser tag to move the funky energy with something physical.
Then is the time to ask questions like “Is there anything else you want to say?” and “What do you need?” versus judgment or clever aha’s. Advice or possible solutions now come only if solicited, and rarely as if I’ve got a clue about what the hell to do either.
Admiration and curiosity help me jump over my habit of “fixing” or “mothering”. Vulnerability in disaster is courage and staying interested and hopeful for positive outcomes even when the story takes a hard left, well, that’s something special.
Most of us don’t want a savior or hero anyway, but someone who will hang in there with us long enough to see us have our own epiphanies, triumph over trials, spin straw into gold—stuff like that.