By Laurynn Davey, Assistant Editor
Feature photo from Unsplash
Interpersonal Communication is the ability to identify, connect with, and analyze interpersonal communication concepts by engaging in critical reflection, engaged discussion, and applied learning. To achieve this objective, over the course of several weeks, our COM 252 class will attempt to help our MCK students by providing advice and suggestions for creating and maintaining healthy relationships. The goal is to synthesize the content we have learned from this class, the class text, research, personal experiences, and write for public consumption.
I have been getting very close to a friend whom I recently met at a party a few months ago. A few weeks ago I was dealing with a family tragedy and she was there for me showing support along the way. I appreciate her for this and at the time I thought this solidified our friendship. Recently I have noticed that she is not feeling her best and I desperately want to be there for her. She never wants to hang out as she used to and I rarely see her outside of class. I have tried to reach out to her on several occasions but my efforts never lead to anything. I have never been in this situation and I don’t know how to be there for someone who doesn’t physically want me there. Do you have any advice on how I can let her know that I am there for her without overstepping her boundaries?
As we form friendships with others, we often feel like we can rely on them for anything and vice versa. While not always expected, support from a friend is often beneficial to a relationship and their mental well-being. However, not all friendships can be communicated in the same ways. There are certain qualities in friendships that affect how we communicate1, and because you both met fairly recently, you may still be exploring how to communicate with her. It is not that she is ignoring or pushing away your efforts.
Based on personal experiences, some individuals try not to seek out support from those close to them, such as family, significant others, or in your case, friends. I do think it’s important to note that not everybody looks for physical support because they fear vulnerability. Some people prefer to handle their business on their own, and sometimes what is meant to be words of encouragement are more like an affirmation to the problems they are dealing with. You will need to try and recognize this with your friend. When someone you care about is struggling, our first instinct is to immediately show our support. There is nothing wrong with that; however, we sometimes have to show our support in ways that are uniquely beneficial to the individual.
There are many different rules for friendships. By observing those rules, your friendship will strengthen with others.1 These rules include actions such as support, providing help, trust, enjoyment, and other positive benefits. Based on your letter, it is clear you are providing help without being asked and trying to support your friend in their time of need. Now, you just have to be the kind of person a friend is comfortable enough to share their thoughts with, which seems to be the struggle. Sharing is a very important standard for friendships because, psychologically, emotional episodes are rendered more pleasant when they are shared.2
Now the question is, how do we achieve this? You mentioned in your question that your friend doesn’t want physical support. Therefore, I suggest sending messages such as “how was your day” or “I’m watching this new show you might like.” Sometimes showing your support isn’t bringing up the topic, but instead starting a different one to make them feel comfortable and for a moment, forget their worries. This often serves as a distraction from the initial problem, before hopefully moving on to the bigger conversation. Just make sure you are still being compassionate. You know your friend is hurting, so while you want to distract her for a bit, make sure you are still writing your messages with a positive focus on her and not yourself.
Another thing you can try is putting more empathetic thoughts into your messages. When receiving support from our friends, especially those we haven’t known as long, the intent of the message often gets lost in its sympathetic meaning. Empathy plays a critical interpersonal and societal role by enabling the sharing of experiences and needs between individuals.3 Empathy gives greater meaning to the person you want to comfort. Now, obviously, it is hard to be empathic when you don’t specifically know what is going on with your friend. However, a simple message such as “I noticed you’ve been feeling down lately. I understand if you don’t want to talk, but I want you to know that I’m here for you” can go a long way. Use the word understand, not “I’m sorry you’re feeling down.” I offer this advice because feeling understood connects those in trouble to others and allows them to feel welcomed and accepted. A lot of times, by recognizing another person’s struggles, they tend to feel less alone and comforted.
Overall, my advice is to either be more empathetic in your messages or avoid the topic altogether (at least, until she is ready to share) but still be compassionate. Also, recognize that you cannot force a conversation. She’ll confide in you when she’s ready. You clearly care for your friend, and now you just have to find a communicative method that works best between you both.
1 Floyd, K. (2021). Interpersonal communication (4th Ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
2 Wagner, U., Galli, L., Schott, B. H., Wold, A., Schalk, J. V., Manstead, A. S., . . . Walter, H. (2014). Beautiful friendship: Social sharing of emotions improves subjective feelings and activates the neural reward circuitry. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10(6), 801-808. doi:10.1093/scan/nsu1213 Riess, H. (2017). The Science of Empathy. Journal of Patient Experience,4(2), 74-77. doi:10.1177/2374373517699267