Is It True: When The Going Gets Tough, Friends Get Going?

Do you remember the proverb is that, "A friend in need is a friend in deed?"

Harriet Brown, mother, wife, survivor of family stress and journalist, wrote an interesting article about what happens to close friends when a family crisis occurs. We would like to assume that close friends make themselves avialble and help out. Sadly, that is not the case. Evidently, the closer the friends and the more similar their lives are to our own, the more likely they will disappear when trouble occurs.

Ms. Brown does not condemn the friends who vanished when her daughters became ill, the youngest with Kawasaki disease, an inflimation of the blood vessels and the older with Anorexia that was so severe that she had to be hospitalized.

What the writer states that is also backed up by psychiatrists and researchers is that some of her closest friends disappeared because they, too, had children of the same age. Fear and denial took over for them. The fear was that a similar crisis could attack their children. The denial, which is a type of unrealistic type of thinking that is quite unconscious, is that if they do not see the afflicted family, then their own family will remain unaffected. This has nothing to do with the fear of contagion but with a type of thinking that goes something like, "There, but for the grace of G-d, go I or my family." Therefore, what I distance myself from cannot affect me.

What Ms. Brown learned is the importance of reaching out to the very friends whom you might not want to see when tragedy strikes them. For example, she felt very lonely with her struggles for the health of each of her children. She needed and wanted help and support from friends. This is common in crisis. Despite wanting to escape, it is more helpful to one's own psyche to reach out and offer specific types of help. A friend sick at home might appreciate a hot meal cooked by you and brought into the house. In a similar vein, and depending on the crisis, hospital visits or assistance of other kinds, really help friends in crisis. What does not help is making an empty offer such as, "If there is anything you need just call me." People are relucant to do that because they sense your wish to escape and do not wish to intrude or burden friends. That is why it is better to offer and carry out actions at a specific times or days. As Ms. Brown points out in quoting a variety of sociologists, "True empathy inspires instrument aid, or, doing something that is truly helpful.

It should go without saying that instrumental aid will work only if you truly want to help. If you really want to help but are fearful it is always better to fight fear by going into action and help.

Remember, "A friend in need is a friend in deed."

Your comments, experiences and opinions are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD