Helping Others to Help Us

Robin B. Zeiger, Ph.D.

You won’t believe what my friend said.  I don’t know how I can talk to him again.”

“My best friend hasn’t even called once. What kind of friend is she?”

“I don’t to burden her with my problems. She has enough problems of her own.” 

“I am such a private person.  I don’t know what to say. Everyone at work is giving me this look of pity.  They know how sick my husband is.  When they look at me, I just want to cry and hide.”

These are some typical responses of individuals in crisis.  Often we wish and/or expect friends and colleagues to magically intuit what we need.  It is all to o easy to become intensely disappointed, hurt, and angered when people around say unhelpful things. And then there is the hurt when those close to us avoid us like the plague. Maybe they fear that the bad news is catching.

It is normal and natural to wish that those around us know what to say and do.  This is often a left-over unconscious wish and belief from our early childhood; a time when we expected mom (and sometimes dad) to magically anticipate our every need.  As babies, we whimpered and/or cried only to be picked up cuddled and soothed. It was as if Mom understood our heart’s desires. When we are needy as adults, it is natural to regress and to expect others to just know what we need.  Likewise we feel startled, disappointed, angered, and hurt when our closest friends and confidants do and say the stupidest things.

Truth be told, most of us don’t have enough practice and training in knowing how to comfort others.  Sometimes we are threatened by our friends’ misfortunes and want to steer clear of the pain and anxiety. We can’t figure out the right thing to say.  Often, we settle for doing things for others that we wish others would do for us.  For example, if I like chocolate cake when I am upset, I may bake a cake for a friend in need.  In contrast, she is on a diet, hates chocolate, and only wants a shoulder to cry upon. 

When in pain, what can you do?

·         Be proactive and assertively tell others what you need. - Remember friends and co-workers often mean well, but don’t know how to help. Keep reminding yourself that others (even spouses) cannot read our minds.  Let them in on your thoughts, needs, and feelings.

“I know you are trying to help by reassuring me that everything will be okay.  Unfortunately it is not so simple. What I really need is a place to share my worst fears.”


“What I really need is a night out watching a funny movie.  Call and invite me.”

·         Use notes and e-mail, if you can’t say it. Sometimes it is easier to begin the conversation via e-mail.  Just remember if you are feeling very emotional and vulnerable, don’t send something into cyber-space or via SMS that you will regret. Write it and save it for a short while before sending it.


·         Have close friends run interference.  Maybe you have a noisy neighbor or a friend who keeps calling when you are not able to talk.  Ask someone close to you to try and explain where you are at. They can sometimes become a much needed go-between.


·         Start a blog.  Sometimes too many people call and stop you for updates. Perhaps you don’t want to tell the same story over and over again. 


·         Keep friends abreast of your changes.  Sometimes our needs fluctuate from week to week or even day to day.  Thus, friends and colleagues may be confused.

“I just got some devastating news. I need some time to digest it.  I really can’t take calls this week.”


“Sometimes I am so emotional, I just need to talk and talk. Other times, I really want to retreat to my bedroom and read and book. Then I don’t want to answer the phone.  You can just ask me what mood I am in. I promise to tell you.”


·         Remember to give others the benefit of the doubt - .  When we are feeling needy and vulnerable, we become much more self-centered.  Thus, it is easy to take everything personally.  We may assume someone is avoiding us when in fact, they are out of town or swamped at work or their child has the flu.

·         Finally, when friends truly offer to help, take them up on it. It is often not just for you. It is for them.  Doing something makes us feel less helpless.   Make a list of simple things you could use – e.g., a meal, a ride somewhere, grocery shopping for the week. When people ask, show them the list and let them choose.  They can always say no.   



Robin B. Zeiger, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1985 and has over 25-years of experience with children, adults, families and couples. She most recently worked in Richmond, Virginia before immigrating to Israel in 2009. Her specialties include depression, anxiety, stress management, creativity, spiritual issues, dream analysis and sand-tray therapy.  She is in private practice at Creative Therapy for Personal Growth. She provides psychotherapy, supervision, and training both in person and via Skype.  She is also an international member of the American Psychological Association and is a free-lance writer.  To learn more about her go to or

You can e-mail her at [email protected] 




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