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How To Stop Feeling Powerless To Help A Friend Or Loved One? A Social Psychology Podcast Episode.

How To Stop Feeling Powerless To Help A Friend Or Loved One? A Social Psychology Podcast Episode.

There comes a point in all our lives when a friend or loved one goes through something that hurts them, rattles them or it even traumatises them. When this happens we can feel powerless or helpless to support them because we can see how badly it’s affected them and we have no idea how to support them. Or even worse in my experience, we want to support them even more but we know this can’t happen because it would turn a relationship into something that isn’t healthy. I think for aspiring or qualified mental health professionals, this feeling is even worse. Since we spend our days empowering, supporting and giving our clients hope within our professional boundaries but we can’t help the people we care most about. Therefore, in this social psychology podcast episode, we’re going to learn tips and tricks to help us feel less powerless to help the people we love most. If you’re interested in friendships, supporting our loved ones and social psychology then this is a great episode for you.

Today’s podcast episode has been sponsored by Social Psychology A Guide to Social And Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.

Note: as always absolutely nothing on the podcast is any sort of professional, medical, relationship or any other form of official advice.

How To Stop Feeling Powerless To Help A Friend Or Loved One?

Something I really liked about the introduction to this podcast episode is that I had a “penny drop” moment, because I realised why I’ve been feeling so powerless lately. Sure, a very close friend of mine is going through stuff, I’m going through stuff at the moment because of my assault and we’ve both admitted we feel powerless to help each other. So this got me thinking about other times when I’ve felt powerless in friendships to help the other and I realised this does pop up.

Therefore, something I want to say straight away is that this is normal.

It is perfectly normal to feel powerless to help someone in a friendship because that is just how friendships work at times. And it means that you care about your friend a lot and that’s great too. After a good few decades of not having a lot of great friends that cared about me too much, I know how great and powerful just knowing a friend cares about you can be.

However, as much as I know it’s normal to feel powerless and helpless in a friendship when the other is going through something. It still doesn’t make it any easier on you because your friend is in emotional pain. We all hate our friends going through that so we want to help.

Sometimes that just isn’t possible and that’s okay.

Here are some ways we can all feel more powerful to help in a friendship or family relationship.

Just Listen Without Trying To Fix It

Now when it came to researching this rather niche topic on the internet, I started smiling and laughing after a while because a great former friend of mine did all of this to me last year before my breakdown. He was great in this regard and I know a lot about feeling less helpless and powerless from him.

As a result, when your friend is going through something, just listen to them, don’t interrupt and don’t offer ten thousand solutions. Since you need to allow your friend or loved one to tell you what happened and how they feel about it without jumping in, being rude and offering up solutions.

The problem with you offering solutions and interrupting them is it shuts them down, it doesn’t make them feel listened to and it isn’t respectful.

The entire point of you being their friend is that they know you’re there for them and they’re trying to understand and empathise with what they went through.

When I told friends about my assault because I only told one friend in-person because They have only gotten bits and pieces over text. They were great because they just sat there, listened and waited for me to finish. My former friend did the same when I was telling him about my abuse and trauma. Both friends made me feel valued, that they cared about me and they were there for me.

That meant a lot.

However, if we flip it over, when someone in my social world did interrupt me and try to offer my solutions when I was telling them about my assault. It hurt. It was so disempowering being shut down like that and it only increased my feelings of shame, guilt and like I didn’t matter whatsoever.

That’s why when a friend is telling you what happened and how they feel, just listen to them. When my friend was telling me what happened yesterday (at the time of writing), I felt a little silly but I was just listening, nodding along and I was completely focused on my friend. I wanted them to know I was there no matter what.

I will add here that sometimes (or often) you will have to process what your friend has told you. Do not do that processing in front of them or in the moment, go away, think about it and talk to your friend or loved one about it if needed. The entire point of your friend telling you what happened is so you can be there for them, this isn’t about you.

Show Empathy And Encouragement

Continuing with this initial conversation or to be honest whenever your friend or loved one needs it. It’s a good idea to acknowledge their pain, let them know you care and say something supportive. Of course, what you say exactly depends on the relationship and your friendship but make it personal. For example, because of my breakdown and everything surrounding it, I have massive issues about me just waiting for my friends to leave me, so it’s always nice when my friends say they aren’t going anywhere and that they care about me and they’re here.

Linking this towards reducing feelings of powerlessness, by offering empathy and encouragement, you are doing something for your friend. You seriously are. You’re helping them to realise that there is a future, everything will be okay and this will pass.

A personal example is that I have massive, massive fears at the moment because moving in with some friends next year for the final year of my Masters. I’m scared that my assault reactions are going to make it hellish and stuff like that. Of course, not a single aspect of those fears is based in any sort of reality, so I told my friend in passing and I almost cried about it. They simply offered some encouragement and they stressed how I would get better over time and it was a helpful reminder.

Find Them Resources

Now I’ve been on the receiving end of this and it is one of the nicest feelings ever. Due to about a week before my breakdown, my former friend knew I was going through stuff and the next day he sent me a little leaflet about a charity that might be able to support me. That meant the world to me because it meant he was thinking about me, he cared enough to see something, think of me and send me a photo of it later on. That was just such a kind thing to do.

Especially, because finding resources is different to listening to someone. When you listen to someone, you’re there and you could argue that you have to listen. Yet finding resources for someone and sending them to the friend or loved one that is even kinder, because you have to go out of your way to do that.

On the whole, if your friend or loved one is struggling then definitely send them some resources randomly. Of course, don’t overdo it and make sure the resources are relevant but it is an extremely kind thing to do, because you seriously didn’t have to do it.

Keep It Healthy

I wanted to wrap up this podcast episode with this section because it is critical.

I know from my past emotional dependency and intensity that it is extremely tempting to go all in and move heaven and earth for someone you care about. Thankfully, I have never done it but I have come extremely borderline and that isn’t healthy.

You need to understand that when a loved one or friend is in trouble or distress, you are “just” a friend. You aren’t their partner, you aren’t their therapist, you aren’t their parent. You are just a friend and that is it.

Therefore, you need to respond how a friend would and you need to offer support that reflects your relationship to the friend or loved one. For example, me stressing I am always there for my friend, me texting my friend every other day and me making kind offers to my friend every so often. That is okay because we are close friends and we’ve been through stuff together.

Yet if I did the same sort of thing towards a friend I’m not close with then that is intense, unhealthy and that isn’t a good idea.

Therefore, when it comes to helping out a friend, you need to effectively know your place. You can’t move heaven and earth for them without your relationship turning toxic and unhealthy, and that will never end well whatsoever.

Of course, if your friend needs a therapist or professional or legal help, then talk to them about it. Just don’t be it.

Finally, I think this is hard for all of us aspiring or qualified mental health professionals. Since we want to help, we have a good idea how to help and we want to use the skills we use every single day in our jobs to help our friend or loved one. It is simply what we normally do so we want to do it in our spare time too.

But we can’t, for the sake of my relationships, we have to know our place.

There are limits.

Social Psychology Conclusion

I know it’s extremely rare for me to write psychology podcast episodes for me and based on my experience. Even though my assault episode came out of that and I did a bunch last August and September. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, it is rare for me to feel the need to write an episode to help me.

However, I hate feeling powerless to help friends and loved ones. My natural tendency is to do all I can to help people because I care about people and I hate, truly hate seeing people in emotional pain.

Nonetheless, this podcast episode has been helpful to me because it’s shown me how listening without trying to fix it, expressing empathy and encouragement, find them resources and keeping it healthy is critical to feeling less powerless in this situation.

We’re all going to make mistakes at times and we’re all going to overstep a little when a friend or loved one is in distress. But if you remember the lessons in this episode then you’ll feel more powerful, more helpful and ultimately better about your life and what your friend is going through.

You can’t help your friend or loved one if you drain and wreck yourself worrying about them. Remember boundaries and remember the four lessons in this episode and it will be okay in the end.

However long it takes, it will be okay. This too shall pass.


I really hope you enjoyed today’s social psychology podcast episode.

If you want to learn more, please check out:

Social Psychology A Guide to Social And Cultural Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also available as an AI-narrated audiobook from selected audiobook platforms and library systems. For example, Kobo, Spotify, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Overdrive, Baker and Taylor and Bibliotheca.

Have a great day.

Social Psychology References and Recommended Reading

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