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Do you know HOW to be a good friend?

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Lifestyle

Do you know HOW to be a good friend?

Are you the kind of friend, partner, or family member who others turn to, to share a story about how they felt ashamed? What I mean is, do you provide a sounding board of understanding and compassion when a loved one feels humiliated, shamed, or embarrassed? Or does your reaction to their shame further accentuate their pain and discomfort? This can be a tough situation to know how to respond to properly, because we can feel very uncomfortable ourselves.

Consider this situation: a close friend or relationship partner calls to tell you about how their boss talked down to them during a meeting and they started crying. They tell you that they feel humiliated by how their boss spoke to them in front of others and feel ashamed that they cried publicly. Brene Brown, in her wonderful book, The Gifts of Imperfection, writes about six ways that are NOT supportive responses. See if you find yourself in here:

  1. The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be. Then there is awkward silence. Then you have to make her feel better.
  2. The friend who responds with sympathy (I feel so sorry for you) rather than empathy (I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there)…
  3. The friend who needs you to the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections. You’ve let her down.
  4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: “How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?” Or she looks for someone to blame: “Who was that guy? We’ll kick his ass.”
  5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be ‘crazy’ and make terrible choices: “You’re exaggerating. It’s wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.”
  6. The friend who confuses “connection” with the opportunity to one-up you. “That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!”

Did you recognise yourself in any of these? Or did you think of a loved one with whom you shared a shameful story, only to have them respond in such a way that wasn’t comforting? It’s an act of courage when we share an embarrassing story, or when someone shares with us, but few of us learn how to provide a space of compassion and support. Brene Brown writes that speaking out about shameful experiences keeps them from growing and becoming even worse inside of us.

So what’s the best way to respond? Listen deeply. Express empathy. Don’t blame the person but also don’t try to fix the situation. Make it clear that you are standing with them and let them talk. It may require heightened awareness to manage your response, but I believe it’s worth the effort.

This article has been republished with permission from our contributing author, Dr. Jennifer Gunsaullus. Please visit Dr. Jenn’swebsite to view original post and more of Dr. Jenn’s works.

Jennifer Gunsaullus

Jennifer “Dr. Jenn” Gunsaullus, Ph.D., is a sociologist who works as a sexuality and mindfulness speaker, and a relationship and intimacy counselor and coach. She specializes in helping women, couples, and groups deepen intimacy, strengthen communication, and improve trust and self-expression. As a sociologist (different than a psychologist or a licensed therapist) she merges a blend of coaching, counseling, education, and awareness-raising in her work. Dr. Jenn got her start in the sex and relationship field 20 years ago as a sexual health peer educator at Lehigh University in her home state of Pennsylvania. She now merges her practical training in sexual health and academic training in sociology with her passion for holistic health and mind/body/spirit perspectives.

Dr. Jenn is a frequent lecturer on relationship and intimacy topics. From wine bars to yoga studies, college classrooms to senior centers, and the LGBT community center to Mensa gatherings, Dr. Jenn offers unique and powerful presentations on healthy communication and fulfilling intimacy. She has also been an adjunct professor for courses including Human Sexuality, Women & Health, and Social Psychology. Dr. Jenn was a contributing writer for Pacific San Diego Magazine and is a Sex & Relationship Expert for San Diego Fox 5 News, San Diego Living, and UT-TV. In 2010 she was named one of San Diego Magazine’s “Women Who Move the City.” In addition, she is on the Board of Directors for Jeans 4 Justice, a nonprofit to end sexual violence, and is on the Communications Leadership Team for the nonprofit donor’s circle Women Give San Diego.

Dr. Jenn has been actively involved for many years with Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues as an actor and director, and was named a “Vagina Warrior” at Cal State San Marcos in 2011. She has an impressive collection of more than 150 episodes of her video podcast show about sexuality & relationships called In The Den with Dr. Jenn. Read below to learn more about this sex talk show, filmed in front of a live studio audience, in San Diego, CA.

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