We all love our friends. We care about how they feel. But when dealing with strong swings in their emotions we often will over-react in either one direction or another. If it’s someone we admire and respect we’ll find their struggles to be unnerving so we’ll want them to simply end. In those cases we’ll say that everything is going to be fine and we’ll offer a bunch of pat solutions—and some may even be true—but what we’ll really be doing is avoiding the fact that a mentor or parent needs us to meet them where they are and we don’t want to go to that weak place with someone we lean on.
If it’s someone we care about in a protective way—or if we feel beholden to the person—then we will be inclined to commiserate with them. We’ll let them tell us endless sad stories and we’ll share common-themed sad stories of our own. In a strange way we will encourage their painful feelings. Whether we don’t let them talk or do let them talk, neither of these approaches will lead to the best possible outcome for very logical reasons.
In the first case we have not met the person. Right when they are feeling weak and vulnerable we have made a demand: get over this. Accept a quick easy solution and tell me we can go back to you being the rock I hold on to when I’m scared. That person may be your rock 99% of the time. But it isn’t friendship if it can’t go both ways. So sometimes you might just have to accept that even life’s heroes will need tending. Even they will feel beaten and tired and even they will be driven to uncharacteristic behaviour. They’re not lacking in humanity. They have great respect for it, so they’ll be the ones that will apologize for their behaviour. And they will also forgive you for your judgment of them when they were merely being human.
In the second case the person’s situation is whatever it is. Talking about it or thinking about it won’t change that. What the person does will matter. So yes, unlike the first example commiseration at least meets people at the energy level they are capable of. But instead of leading the person out it actually helps to keep the person trapped. Healthy people think about something only long enough to plan their action or inaction. After that they drop it. That’s what being healthy is. Emotionally unskilled egos will replay events and chain them into past events or imagine them connected to future events. In short, the ego will sit and ruminate on what it wish had happened whereas a healthy spirit will take the action that makes the most sense and otherwise stay present and focused on the current moment.
There’s a reason that commiseration reaches a point where it doesn’t feel good. At that point you are no longer truly joined with the person nor are you usefully sharing their feelings. At that point you have disengaged and you are beginning to think about yourself. Your natural defence mechanism rises up and it wants you away from the negativity—hence the fact that you don’t like the feeling you’re feeling. This is when it’s time to turn your friend’s chemistry. This is when you begin to offer other frequencies of thought.
Their thoughts about the situation will be generating a lot of painful chemistry. Maybe they feel betrayal or frustration or anger or guilt. It doesn’t matter which chemicals—just focus on the fact that they don’t feel magnetic. They don’t feel encouraging. They’re not feelings you want to see continue. That’s your motivation. That’s your signal. That’s how your body communicates to you about your thinking. You feel what you think. So steer life away from unpleasant thinking and towards enjoyable thinking until eventually you can get to almost no thinking, just being.
So when you’re talking to your friend don’t tell them everything will be okay because from their perspective that’s like saying they’re crazy when they’re not. But also: don’t start ping-ponging sad or angry stories back and forth because that will really build up a tempest of unpleasant chemistry that can end up leading to some very poor decisions that may permanently affect your future.
Be with your friend. Just Be. There’s no right words at a time like that. There’s only love. So just sit there and focus on your love for them. Let them talk. And when it feels right remind them of the good things in their life. Remind them of great past events that grew out of crappy past events. Get their mind on thoughts that will provide more pleasant chemistry—thoughts that will heal them instantaneously because their thoughts are where their emotions are born. And by leading them to better chemistry you’ll lead them to higher perspectives that feel less foreboding.
Being sad or angry or hurt feels good for a time. But that time passes fairly quickly. Learn to help your friends shift to better quality thinking. The more you help them the more you’ll wire that concept into your own brain. You’ll just take it for granted that you can change moods quickly and easily. And because you know you can, you will. And just like people die deaths of a thousand tiny cuts, you will save yourself with a thousand tiny thought-shifts a day. That is why they call it a practice.
Don’t over-think painful experiences. That only continues their effect. Free yourself from unnecessary suffering and learn to help guide those you love to more enriching thinking. Don’t rush them. Don’t push with your thoughts. Just be patient. Trust me—when you’re in the right head-space, what-to-say will seem to come to you from out of nowhere. And when you hear it you will be just as amazed as the person you say it to. Because it will be that special kind of brilliant wisdom that can only come from the pure, infinite genius that is The Universe.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.