A good friend who sticks by you through thick and thin is a rarity these days. But if our friendships have taught us anything—and acclaimed HBO favorites like Entourage or Girls verify—certain friendships, where one friend continually makes bad decisions can be frustrating.
We all have someone who is true blue, kind, and always caring but tends to make unhealthy choices by never thinking straight or of repercussions. When those kinds of friends make such decisions, it often feels like our options are limited. So how do we help them?
We often believe to be compassionate, we have to listen and not say anything. But that’s not how good, solid friendships work. We never act cowardly towards a friend—especially if you know they will understand you. If anything, we always want the best for them and want to ensure their decision is one that doesn’t emotionally or mentally stunt them, or cause heartache.
Of course, it can take a toll on us. The back and forth of their choices, making us wonder why they just can’t get it. But by ensuring healthy and impartial boundaries in our relationships, we are able to uphold our own emotional reliability. There are ways to be a friend and still be supportive without becoming a habitual enabler. By setting limits on what isn’t good for you, you’re able to take care of your friend and the friendship.
Who is this really about?
The most important thing to decide is if it’s about you or them. Is their decision something you would not do? Don’t let your perception of an “unhealthy” decision cloud your judgement. If you’re concerned that your BFF quit their day job in law enforcement to pursue the arts and become an actor, ask yourself if they’re happy. Just like functional romantic, loving relationships, solid friendships are about support and stem from similar values and interests. Because change is unavoidable, know that people will ultimately want to do what sparks their passion, and most of all, makes them happy. Your best friend might realize that something (or someone) might be good for them, even if it means it’s not at all what you’d want most for yourself.
Survey your participation:
Sometimes our friends display self-destructive behavior, but examine how it affects you. While you might be worried for them, the situation at times might not even directly affect you. Nevertheless, survey your participation because there are times when it will—like if they bail on driving you home after a night of drunk partying. Sure, it’s a sign of irresponsibility, but no matter the situation, explore your part in the friendship and ask yourself, are you an enabler?
Moreover, take a deep, hard look at your history. If you’ve been getting them out of messes, you might be falling into the role of “rescuer” or worse—the parent. It’s far easier to help others than to share some of that tough love. However, if their choices are directly affecting you and causing discomfort, find a way to continue supporting them without encouraging their reckless behavior. If you stand by it, you’re supporting it.
Never judge them:
As cliché as it is, there’s a reason why there are erasers on the tips of pencils. We all make mistakes every now and then, and been in pits where we can’t find a way out of. But it’s important we keep in mind how to approach our friends with our concerns of their bad decisions. Think of how you would talk to a child — not condescendingly or in a baby voice, but with love and interest. If they hear any sort of judgment in your tone or sarcasm, they will tune you right out. It might be frustrating at first, but you need to maintain neutrality in order to help them figure it out and understand where your anxiety comes from.
Time to talk:
Currently, email, text messaging, and IM are the way to go when we are communicating with friends. However, if you want to support them and express your apprehension of their decisions, you need to do this in person. While it would seem okay to converse over the phone, you create more of a connection and balance when it’s the two of you face-to-face.
When you finally get the chance to talk with them, start with the positives—how much you love them and want the best for them. Once you’ve established positivity, start the groundwork for what’s concerning you. Outline their behavior in neutral ways like, “You seem to date people who often don’t get you,” as opposed to, “Your partner is an idiot and not seeing you for you.”
While in conversation, utilize “I” statements to express honesty, and that you want to help them break the cycle of bad choices. From there, ask them if they have any questions because they will have plenty. If you have to run through everything again, don’t be afraid to. They may not appreciate being analyzed or have the best reaction to you, but they will wonder and that opens the door to a deeper understanding within themselves. Sure, they might even shut you out, but they need to come to terms on their own so give it time.
Be prepared to take a break if need be:
Two things may come out of this. Either they will appreciate your concern and take it to heart for productive lifestyle changes—or, they will be extremely defensive and angry, and ask for space. Give it to them. The reality is, you can’t save people from themselves. And when that happens, we end up building resentment towards that friend we so hoped would change. If you feel your friend is draining you of energy and effort, don’t be afraid to set some boundaries. Let them know of your concerns and that the door will always be open further down the road—because real friendship doesn’t end.
If your friend is not taking steps to better their life, seek happiness, and pursue their dreams, they’re choosing to stay in the role of the victim, and constantly the one who wants sympathy when life gets tough. But that’s their doing. Yours is to look after yourself and sit on the sidelines if need be.