Being a good friend when times are hard

On the heels of last week's post about "saying no," I started thinking... in a world where we best honor our boundaries, what does it really mean to be a good friend?

I think we are often taught by society and family dynamics that we are to be there for someone no matter what - we show up - we help carry the burdens - we don't ask for anything in return. We listen, we laugh, we love, and when we are needed, we champion a challenge like a knight in shining armor. This is a great friend, right?

In many ways, yes. But I think we do need to find the line that Hollywood, society, and perhaps old dynamics have not shown. Otherwise, we delve into unhealthy boundaries and a friend who might be needing to experience this situation (for a karmic reason) could become dependent on you - and you could become dependent on them for praise... this is co-dependency. Many of my former relationships were co-dependent and it took me decades to break my pattern. There were of course good times, but overall it drained me to a dry pulp. Honoring your boundaries in a friendship is key to having a healthy relationship.

Let's say a friend is about to go through, or is currently in, a very hard spot. This could look like a breakup, a loss, an addiction, financial troubles, assault, healing childhood traumas, etc. How can we be a good friend in these times, without losing our boundaries or forgetting to not empathetically take on their pains.

First - we understand their situation... what is going on with them, and how is it affecting them? How are they looking/acting differently. We cannot expect them to be the same person they were a week ago when everything was "fine and normal." So - let's make peace with that fact and embrace who they are as they show up. One day they may be themselves again, or they might be a stronger, wiser version of themselves... but for today, let them be a little mangled or broken.

Second - we engage. This will look different for everyone since each situation is unique. Perhaps we help them with a cooked meal, taking out the trash, or offering to hold their hand as they cry. Maybe we find silly jokes to make them laugh, or ask to take them out to a park or restaurant to get their minds off of things for a little while. Create a new routine event so they have something to look forward to - whatever works for you and them.

Third - suggest other support systems too. You are not alone, there is a whole world of helpers out there. Whether it is other friends, support groups, clinics, healers, or activity groups, you can share the load. You don't have to do everything to help them. Show up where you can and where it feels good for you, but not beyond. If you are being asked to go beyond your boundary, express that it "doesn't feel like this is your place," "am not quite comfortable with that," "don't have the time in my current schedule, even though you love them dearly, but would suggest X to support in this."

And if the person is leaning too much or begins to manipulate you into doing or being more for them, consider a few things: 1- could you take on more without disrespecting your boundaries? 2- has this person changed and is expecting too much of you? 3- are you evolving into a co-dependent relationship?

Fourth - how to disengage if it is encouraging poor boundaries or is energetically draining. This happens. People change under duress and unexpected life occurrences. This does not mean you are a bad friend, and neither are they necessarily... you both are just a little bit different. Perhaps your needs and how you show up are not the same as they once were. That is okay. Relationships ebb and flow - this is natural. If you can respectfully have a chat about it and consciously un-couple (to use my favorite Gweneth Paltrow'ism), then great!!

But lets assume its stickier than that... When friends can't find their feet under them, we can help them initially or even for a short time. But if they don't make any effort to find their own footing - then it is time to begin to disengage. Recognize that it is not your responsibility to carry them and their burdens. Ultimately, being a good friend doesn't mean zero boundaries or being a hero for everyone else and doing all the things. And it certainly isn't being a good friend if you let someone continue self-destructive patterns because they know that you will be there to pick them up. Sometimes being a good friend means sitting back, respecting and loving someone enough to say goodbye. In co-dependent relationships, we have to create distance or even cut people off so they will begin to live on their own. Believe it or not, being a good friend in this situation means removing yourself as a crutch, so they fall to the absolute bottom and realize the consequences of their own choices.... by letting go, you serve them the chance to face their truth and become independent. Think about how powerful that is! Sure, you might feel guilty at first. But then once they stand up on their own feet (and they likely won't ever thank you for this, so get over that idea!), you can honor their strength and courage. And if they never pick themselves up and become independent, then you know you could truly do nothing to help them.

In any of these sequences, you will likely feel great that you helped your friend out knowing that they would likely return the favor for you. If you had to cut them off, it is possibl one day you two will be friends again... maybe not... but continuing down an energetically draining and karmically sticky relationships is not a good idea for anyone.

In sum, honor your boundaries - show up as your authentic self for your friends when they need you. But be clear about your limits so you can continue to be the best version of yourself in your relationships. People love you for being exactly YOU. Do what you do best to support those you love, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.

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