We all have that friend—the one who always seems to have a problem. You love this friend, but sometimes you don’t know the best way to respond to their seemingly perpetual vent sessions. There is an art to handling these conversations.
It’s not wrong or mean to acknowledge that you are not your friend’s therapist and they shouldn’t treat you like one. You’re not a trained professional (or, if you are, they’re not paying you for your time) and your friend can’t expect you to take on all of their problems on top of your own. We all go through hard times and experience challenges, and there are many times you will not have the energy to absorb another person’s problems. A good habit to get into is asking a friend before venting if it’s an okay time to vent, which allows the person to let you know if they have the emotional space to listen and help right then. Hopefully, your friend will mirror this behavior. If not, it’s totally okay to tell a friend, “I really care about you, but I’m feeling stressed about my own life right now. Can we talk about this when I’m feeling able to offer better advice?”
A lot of times, just voicing your emotions and thoughts lifts a weight off your shoulders. This is one of the main reasons why methods like journaling and talk therapy work so well for people who are struggling. Putting your thoughts into words can help you view situations with a fresh perspective, recognizing that a problem isn’t as bad or complicated as you might have previously thought. Many times, your friend will benefit more from you listening openly rather than offering advice. Actively listening by asking your friend to clarify confusing points, making eye contact, and nodding will let your friend know that you acknowledge everything they’re saying.
Validate rather than apologizing.
When a friend experiences a disappointment, we tend to automatically say “I’m so sorry.” Although we use this phrase with the best of intentions, these words often make the friend feel isolated, like you’re pitying them rather than understanding them. Instead, try acknowledging their feelings. For example, if your friend is angry at their partner for forgetting an important date like an anniversary, try saying, “That must be really difficult. It’s really frustrating when you’re excited about something and another person doesn’t put in the effort you expected.”
Offer personal experience with caution.
When a friend is venting about an experience they’re going through, we often equate empathizing with relating our personal experiences to their own. This has the best of intentions. We want to let others know that we understand how they feel because we’ve gone through a similar experience. However, your friend might become irritated if you offer personal life examples because this can make them feel like you’re turning the subject of the conversation toward yourself. If a friend expresses concern that their experience is abnormal or that no one else has gone through what they’re going through, that could be a smart time to offer up an example of personal experience with the same situation. For most other situations, keep the conversation focused on your friend.
Know when to draw the line.
There’s a difference between a friend who constantly complains about their coworker’s annoying habits and a friend whose distress is holding them back from living a full life. If your friend seems to air out tiny annoyances and complaints to you daily and it’s getting tiring, it’s time to have a conversation and tell them, “We all have our pet peeves, but I feel like a lot of our conversation has been focused on everything that bothers you. I’d really love it if we could talk about something more positive.” This could be an awkward conversation, but it’s important to make your feelings clear rather than letting yourself become passive aggressive, leaving your friend confused.
If your friend’s venting goes beyond the nuances of daily life and you feel that their well-being is being compromised, you can gently and thoughtfully suggest that they seek professional help. Let your friend know how much you care about them, that you’ve noticed them struggling, and that you want them to live a happy and full life. If you or a friend of yours has a therapist that works well, consider recommending them to your friend.
For more relationship tips, visit http://starthealthy.com/life.