Dealing With Your Own Crisis? How to get the help YOU need from friends and family

Counseling individuals who are going through a crisis in their lives, whether it be medical, psychological, or marital, I am privy to know how often individuals feel let down by friends and family who just don’t seem to “get it” and don’t know how to help. This leads to anger and even to pulling away from the friendship at a time when you need it the most. Unless a friend has read my article, “When Crisis Strikes a Friend: 10 practical things you can do to be a good friend,” most people do not know how to help or know what to say. Other than giving them that article (which is not such a bad idea), how can we get friends and family to step up and help you in the way you need? The answer lies within YOU…the one going through a difficult time.

It is annoying to think that on top of dealing with your personal situation you have to add something more to your plate by helping others help YOU. You may also feel that if a friend isn’t automatically helping you (in the way you want), he or she is a bad friend and you don’t want them in your life. But with minimal effort, I can assure you that these suggestions will assist you to be comforted and helped in the way that you need, leading to an even deeper friendship and connection.

1) ACCEPTANCE One of the hardest things to do is to accept the fact that your friends have different ways of dealing with things, or that they may experience discomfort that prevents them from doing anything at all to help you. This doesn’t make them bad people; it just means this is how they are. Don’t try and change them, and don’t get angry over their shortcomings or their discomfort… just accept this side of them. They are not trying to hurt you; they just don’t know what to do. But if you follow some of the suggestions listed below, your friends and family may be able to step up a bit more.

2) UNDERSTAND THAT PEOPLE ARE NOT MIND READERS In a perfect world, your friends and family would inherently know exactly what you want or don’t want. In that same perfect world, you wouldn’t be in this crisis or situation at all, right? So let’s toss that perfect-world nonsense aside and get you what you need from your support system!

3) MAKE A LIST OF WHAT YOU WANT OR NEED In order for friends and family to help you in the way YOU want, you must first know what you want! Everyone is different which is why it is important for you to know what feels right to you. Some areas to cover in your list are: Phone calls, E-mails, texts, visits, food, meals, gifts, flowers, cards, questions about how you are feeling, how you want to be treated (like “normal? Or, like you are in a crisis?), advice, pep talks, help with chores, distractions by talking about their own lives, etc. Go through each of these topics and decide what you want. Be specific.

4) MAKE A LIST WHAT YOU DON’T WANT OR NEED This list is just as important as what you do want. Some people like being asked how they are feeling, and some don’t. Some like a pep talk when they are feeling down, some may not. Between these two lists, you will be covering a lot of areas and providing your friends and family a guideline for how to best help you.

5) SHARE YOUR LIST So now that you have made an extensive list of what you want/need and what you don’t want/need…share it! You can enlist a friend who can be your “point person” to share your personal “help manual”. Or you can create a “Caring Bridge” (https://www.caringbridge.org), “Careline” (https://bonemarrow.org/carelines), or even a private Facebook page. On that page, you can post your list of “do’s and don’ts” of what your friends and families can do to best help you. To help you with the wording, you might say:

“I know you will want to help me in some way as I am going through this difficult time. I have created a list of do’s and don’ts to make it easier in knowing what I want. I truly appreciate your reading this list and doing your best to follow my wishes. This is the easiest way to help me at this time.“

6) FORGIVE MISTAKES AND GIVE FEEDBACK IF NECESSARY You will have friends and family who may not follow your list or may forget what works best for you. You may need to remind others of what your needs are. In giving this feedback, be direct about what went wrong while acknowledging their good intentions. Then you can let them how they can better support you, moving forward.

7) DON’T EXPECT ONE PERSON TO MEET ALL YOUR NEEDS Some friends might be better with tasks, some might be better with talking about feelings or just listening. Some might be better for a distraction. Turn to the friend that suits your particular need in each situation.

8) LEARN TO LET GO IF NECESSARY If someone repeatedly hurts or disappoints you, despite your direct requests and follow up, it might be time to distance yourself. They may have personal limitations that prevent them from supporting you in the way you need to be supported. Try and accept this without anger as you let go (see #1, acceptance).

It would be nice if you didn’t have to do any of the above for your support network to know exactly what you need. However, most of the time you must be clear and direct about what you want. If you follow the above suggestions, I can promise that you will feel far more supported. Not only will your friends appreciate knowing how to help you, you will feel a sense of control at a time in your life when you might not feel you have that much.

Lesley Kelman Koeppel, LCSW

Lesley Koeppel is a Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field for more than 25 years. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and New York University with a Masters of Social Work. She maintains a private practice in NYC where she helps her clients achieve their life goals. Her expertise in support groups, individual counseling and oncology helps provide her patients with a unique compassion, understanding and direct approach. She began her career working with oncology patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and running support groups for patients dealing with leukemia and lymphoma. She continues to run those same support groups at The Bone Marrow & Cancer Foundation.

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Lesley Koeppel

Therapist/Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field for more than 25 years.