We all have people that matter to us, be it friends, family, or colleagues, but our relationships with them aren't always smooth sailing; once in a while, we disagree and drift away from one another.
In some instances, a "distant friend" could indicate that the relationship is coming to an end. More often than not, however, it means that they may not be in the right state of mind: they haven't been themselves, they no longer enjoy the things they used to, they're crying more often than usual. That should immediately trigger warning bells: they are likely not okay, and they need you.
In the past, I've found it difficult to open up about my feelings, because I haven't always felt like I had a safe space to do so. But now, I can confidently say that I've found that safe space in my family. Others may find it in their friends, so here are some tips on how to be supportive of your family beyond blood if ever they feel down.
1. Establish yourself as a safe space
If there's anything anyone— especially teens— could want, it's a place surrounded by people amongst whom they feel they belong. You don't necessarily have to have everything in common or do everything together, but it is important that your friends feel comfortable around you and that they can be open and honest with you. If they don't, there could be a lot they struggle with, and you wouldn't know about it or be able to help them with it.
Personally, I know that, regardless of whether we are close friends or not, I try to make sure that everyone in my school feels and knows that they can talk to me, because everyone just needs that safe space to let their feelings out or feel valued as a human being.
Be that person for someone else.
2. Validate their feelings
No one wants to feel alone, so the least we could do is try to make as many people around us feel understood. Naturally, you won't be able to relate to every experience those around you have had, but if someone knows they've got a friend right there beside them, not only will they realize that they do, in fact, have a place in the world, but that the problem they may be facing is a lot smaller than they initially thought.
So, be there when they need to cry, scream, shout, rant, because if there's one thing I know, it's how damaging it can be when you don't let your emotions out. Remember that it is often difficult to be transparent about how you feel, so if your friend trusts you enough to open up, don't abuse that trust or take advantage of their vulnerability. Let them be safe, let them be at ease, let them simply be.
3. Encourage them to talk it out
Talking about your problems almost always makes them seem less insurmountable. Sharing our sentiments on our hardships, mental struggles, and emotional worries should be normalized, because doing so never makes you any less strong as a human. Similarly, if someone doesn't want to talk, they shouldn't feel forced to, but should be reminded that having healthy, open discussions with those they trust should definitely be encouraged.
Never feel offended if a friend decides to speak with someone who isn't you. We are naturally more comfortable with certain people, and will thus gravitate towards them more; that does not invalidate anyone's status as a good friend. For example, there are surely problems you'd prefer to face with your mother rather than your father, or with your siblings rather than your parents. This doesn't mean they cease to be your immediate family!
4. Share your experiences with each other
It's important to talk about the things you have experienced in your own time. Doing so not only helps you come to terms with what you have faced, but may just let someone out there know they are understood.
One of the reasons I started writing is because I wanted to establish a platform where I could openly and honestly discuss things that I've thought, seen, heard, and felt, and let teens across the world know that they are not alone. If I help even one person feel less hopeless, that's more than good enough for me.
5. Establish a plan of action
Both you and your friend should decide how you're going to conquer the challenges life inevitably presents. Perhaps you both choose to take it slow, proceeding day by day knowing that, regardless of how that day goes, you've got each other's backs. Or perhaps your friend may think that their journey of self-love, self-discovery, and inner peace is one on which they wish to embark alone.
It is 100% understandable if they prefer the latter. The important thing is that your friend is ready to heal and how they wish to do that should be respected.
Communicate with them and work out whether they wish for you to be around for them each step of the way or if they would rather deal with everything by themselves. Either way, it will allow you to work out how best to support your friend--which is the ultimate goal.
6. Check up on them
It honestly costs nothing to message a friend and say, "I was thinking of you." If you'd like, you could even send them a care package of all their favorite things.
It's definitely the thought that counts. Anyone would be over the moon to know that someone else was thinking of them and cared enough to reach out. I know I certainly would.
7. Respect their wishes
Sometimes, people just want to be left alone. And as much as we might be upset by getting shut out, it's important that we try to understand where they're coming from. I always encourage others to put themselves and their well-being first, and if that means taking some time away from you to figure things out, as much as it hurts, you should respect and accept that. If anything, be proud of them for knowing their limits and acknowledging that they need time.
8. Reassure them that you'll be there
If there’s anything that a person who’s finding things difficult could want, it’s the comfort of knowing that those they care about will be there for them when they need it. Be the best friend that you can be for them.
We're all different and behave differently in our friendships and interactions with others, so make sure to study and understand other people. Everyone's unique— what works for one may not work for another.
If you have a friend who's having a difficult time, try out some or all of the listed points to help them out. Alternatively, if you're the friend who's struggling, I promise from the bottom of my heart that things will be okay.