If your best friend had a big chunk of spinach in her teeth, you'd tell her… right?
Of course you would. You care about her, so you'd gently let her know: "Hey, you've got a little something… there. You got it." No problem.
But what about when the elephant in the room is a little more complicated than a piece of spinach? What about when your friend is gaining or losing tons of weight after going through a loss, and you suspect she's feeling out of control? What about when your friend is developing a heavy grudge against her former boss and it's clouding her job hunt with negativity?
Or what about when your friend is becoming a cynic about love, constantly complaining that "everyone is a jerk." Except you know the issue is your friend's self-respect. What you really want to say is, "The issue isn't other people.You're not treating yourself with care and respect, so you're attracting the wrong kinds of people." What… then?
When someone you love is in pain, it can be easier, and even tempting, to slip into the role of confidante and co-complainer, agreeing with your friend, no matter what he or she says. ("Totally. You're right. What a jerk. Good riddance").
But that's not what it means to be a true friend. You can't "fix" anyone else's life, but you can encourage them to take action to resolve the blocks that are holding them back. You can help nudge your friend forwards, not backwards.
Wouldn't you want someone to nudge your forward when you're holding yourself back? That's why it's not only helpful to others to speak up, but also self-empowering. You'll get what you give.
But ask permission first. You can preface your honesty with a statement of care or affection. After all, your honesty (even if seemingly harsh) is an act of care: "I care about you and I'd like to share something personal with you... about you. Would that be OK?"
Without permission, your friend might be taken off guard, or possibly outright offended, by your unsolicited advice. He or she might not be ready to hear what you have to say — and tune you out.
Assuming you get permission, then consider the things you might need to say to your friend. Here are some common problem-areas, where your friend might just be in need of a wakeup call...
This might be hard. After all, self-care can only come from one person: the self. But if your friend appears to be treating herself unkindly, whether losing or gaining too much weight, drinking too much and so on, it may be time for you to step in for a difficult but necessary conversation: "Hey, it seems like your weight has been fluctuating a lot since the big break-up. I love you no matter what, but are you OK? If you want to talk, I want to know, and I'm here to help."
There's no denying that work-life is a common area of stress and insecurity for us all. But it doesn't have to be that bad, and sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement. If your friend seems really down about a past job or future career woes, try offering some simple wisdom: "Your last boss treated you unfairly, and it sucks. But that's in the past. What's your new career dream, now? And how can I help you make it happen?"
Of course, love is also a sensitive subject. But it doesn't mean that you should just "yes" everything your friend says. It can be critical to offer your friend a voice of clarity during romantic struggles: "Nothing would make me happier than to see you dating an incredible person who adores you. I know they're out there. But have you considered focusing on self-love right now? I know, from personal experience, that when I take good care of myself, I naturally tend to attract other people who love and respect me, too."
4. Mental Health
If you are worried about your friend's mental health, intervening is not only a nice thing to do, but a necessary thing. This point is perhaps the most straightforward. Voice your concern: "I'm concerned about you. I miss your smile. I know it's there, somewhere. I'm here for you, but would you consider talking to a counselor or life coach. Someone who can help you even more than I can. I wrote down a couple names and websites, in case you might be interested. No pressure. Just love."
What do you need to say to a friend, today? Say it with care — and carefully chosen words. You could help your friend break out of a miserable cycle — or maybe, just take that very first baby step.