Fact: Breakups stink. Even when it's a friend and you're just there for emotional support, no one likes to watch their friend suffering. And while you clearly get props for bringing on a steady stream of Starbucks Frappuccinos and pedicures, once the creamy concoction is gone and the paint is dry, there is some emotional work left to do. Here are five things to remember when supporting your friend through her breakup.
Cut him off.
A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology found that when you go through a breakup, your body responds similarly to an addict going through withdrawal. Allow her to freely express herself—whether it is anger, sadness, or numbness. But then she should 'quit' her ex. “Don’t call. Throw out the cards and letters, and don’t write. Don’t be near the other person," suggests study author Helen Fischer, Ph.D. Another coping mechanism? Suggesting she unfriend her ex on Facebook. A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that “staying connected to an ex on Facebook can halt your recovery from the breakup and stunt your personal growth."
Allow her to bash—briefly—and then let go.
She probably has some choice words for her ex, and while you may be tempted to chime in, don't. Instead, help her get out of the habit of speaking about the person, suggests Gina Barreca, Ph.D. Encourage her to let go. The past cannot be changed, and she now has the choice to no longer dwell in all the awful things he did to her. Encourage her to make a clean break, and check out this helpful video from SoulPancake that may help her heal.
Prepare yourself for changes in your friendship.
Your friend is experiencing a major life transition, and this is likely to effect other aspects of her life—including your friendship. As Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D., points out in her article titled "4 Ways to Be a Good Friend During a Friend's Breakup," "Your friend is grieving … it might not be possible right now for them to be as good a friend to you as you are used to. This is not indicative of how the rest of your lives will be … be ready for them to be flaky, distant, insensitive, even dismissive. It's easy to be friends when you both feel good about life, yourselves, and each other—it's harder with someone who seems to need you desperately one minute and hate you the next. You are experiencing your friend's fear, despair, disappointment, and shame turned outward." And that leads to the next point.
Don't fully take on her emotions.
Being a shoulder to cry on or an open ear to listen during this time is an essential part of being a supportive (and loving) friend. Empathy is a vital part of showing comfort. But taking on her feelings, or overwhelming yourself with trying to figure out how to make her feel better or move on faster, is a boundary you don't need to cross. Take the pressure off your shoulders of feeling responsible for her healing. You don't need to have the perfect advice. She most likely needs you to listen, and if you are not present (that is, solving her problems in your head or looking for the right words), you'll fail to actually listen to her.
Suggest professional help.
Major life changes can often be traumatic. So why suffer alone? If you notice your friend withdrawing or becoming depressed, don't be afraid to suggest she seek extra help, guidance, or counsel from a professional, whether a therapist or a general doctor. You are close with her, and you know when something isn't right. It may be hard for her to hear, but your love for her should surpass any stigma or judgment.