"When someone confides in you, don't guide them, just let them hide in you"
As someone with a lived experience of trauma, I've experienced the full spectrum of responses. Ironically, some of the most well-intended responses have resulted in the most damaging set backs. So if a friend confides in you how can you make sure you are responding in a way which enables their recovery? While it takes some practice, "lay psychology" is far easier than you think.
Trust is a precious gift Firstly, when someone confides in you, it is a sign of respect. Your friend is saying "I believe you are trust worthy enough to take care of my inner most feelings". Therefore do everything possible not to damage that trust. Do everything possible to help them keep feeling safe with you. Confidant: a person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others.
Nothing to change, nothing to fix Secondly, remember that they are coming to you for your safety, not your advice. This is important. Important enough to say it again. Your friend is coming to you for the safety they feel with you. They do not want your opinion, judgement, advice or perspective. Therefore, suspend your inner dialogue and use your senses to 'be with' your friend. Feeling a part of your body and watching your breathing, you can 'hold space' for your friend to deepen in.
Be present Your job as the confidant is to be present to your friend's process. Being present will feel like you aren't helping, but this is far from the truth. But being present with your friend enables finding what they need. It is messaging that they are fully capable and fully supported to find their own way through.
In practical terms These 5 steps will help your friend bring logic, comprehension and reflection to the situation without interrupting his/her emotional processing. Step 1. Hear them out. Don't interrupt. Don't ask questions. Let them say what they want, however they want - with hand gestures, facial expression, tears, anger, hurt, grief, despair, frustration…whatever they bring. Notice if your story is triggered, and own it. Notice if you feel uncomfortable, and own it. Don't project your story onto your friend. Let her/him have the respectful space they need. Step 2. Help them to make a coherent fact-based picture of what has happened ie "seek first to understand". If there are blurry spots in the story, jumbled parts, or bits that don't make sense, enquire gently. Together, your aim is to understand the facts, in sequence, so that they start to make sense. Step 3. Let your friend set the pace. You don't need to guide the timeline of the conversation. Letting your friend take her/his time, shows your belief in their capacity to work it out as they need to. It also reinforces that your agenda is not getting in the way ie it will help your friend to feel safe. Step 4. Respect your friends trust by maintaining total confidentiality. If you need to talk about it for your own wellbeing, respect that your friend has trusted you with their reputation and reserve mention of identity. Any compulsion to use names in the telling or hearing of the story, demonstrates a lack of discipline to gossiping. Step 5. Finally, if you have accepted the privileged role of confidant, check in every so often with an occasional "how are you?" text message.
Are you okay? - Hard to go wrong with this one
How can I help? - If you don’t know what to do, just ask.
So, what I'm hearing is…
That sounds like a totally normal response/ I'm sure I'd feel exactly the same.
I don't know what to say (they'll probably just remind you you don't need to say anything)
Just hold that thought for a moment (if you need to take a break)
This is important, but can we pick it up again later? (if you need to go)
Have you shared this with anyone else? / Have yo spoken with your GP? (if at any stage you are out of your depth)
Safety is the antidote to trauma. If you can help your friend feel safe with you, you have helped them take a major step to recovery. You'll know together you're on the right track, if your friend continues to share openly. You may feel raw and it may trigger your own discomfort, but you'll be assured that you're helping your friend's recovery. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis. This is a fact. You have skills of listening and being with. It's time we were there for each other.
See www.onenaturaltherapies.com.au for more information on trauma-informed care