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Ask A Therapist: How Can I Get My Friend To Open Up?

Relationships, Ask a Therapist
6 min read

Dear Therapist: There’s a particular friend in my friend group who we call “the cheerleader” of the group.  She always shows up for friends, she’s super supportive, very driven in her career, and really fun to be around. Along with this however, she’s always presenting as “positive” / “happy go lucky” / “everything is fine!” We lived together for 2 years and I was excited to finally get to a deeper level, something other friends have commented on to me privately that they’ve never really been able to do. During our time as roommates, even when she went through something like a breakup or heartbreak (both of which I witnessed!), she wouldn’t reveal any sadness or moments of weakness. I always made sure to tell her I was there to listen / talk / cry together.. Whatever she needed but nope, she just marched on like an energizer bunny with a smile on her face. I really value vulnerability in my friendships so I’m stuck on this one because she is such a loving, dedicated friend. It makes me sad because I want her to know it's okay to feel other emotions. How do you even broach this topic? Is it my place to keep reminding her of this? Or do I just drop it?

Frame Therapist Selene Burley weighs in:
Friendships can be complex and at times messy. It sounds like you really are struggling with not getting that vulnerable side of her. A good place might be to reflect on what type of friendship you have. Let’s go over the three types of friendships you generally find yourself in. First type is usually a friendship that grew because there was a reason you met. Maybe through work, small group at a gym, neighbors, school. Then you have friends that are there for a season, your priorities shift, certain challenges present that may make that relationship end but they served a purpose for a time in your life. Last you might be looking at a forever friendship. These are your no matter what, these are the friends that whether the storm with you through life, and you share more than you would than with an acquaintance. The way you view the friendship might not align with hers. So re-evaluate the friendship. What do you usually look for in a friend? Does this person possess those qualities? 

It sounds like you really enjoy the friendship and the loving nature of your friend. This might be a good time to shine light on and understand that not everyone expresses themselves the same way. Maybe for her it was not considered the norm to share insight into her life outside of her home. For some households sharing outside of family can be seen as taboo and just simply something that is not done. For others it is just overall challenging to express those feelings and something that they might not have worked on yet or unable to ever get to that level of expression. I would suggest simply asking her if that is something that she would ever feel comfortable with.

Sometimes asking the other person how would it look like to them if you were being supportive can take away the mystery, remember it does not have look like what it may look like for you. A good way to communicate might be “I statements”, which might look like “I feel” (insert emotion) when you (fill in the blank). It is important to use this type of communication with a soft tone, this helps shift the focus on to you and can reduce any feelings of blame from the receiving party.

It is important to understand that we all view life through our own lens and what might seem like an event that should have brought sadness it might have been great relief for them. Do you normally go to others instead of the person you are having conflict with? This can lead to triangulation and will not help ease what you are feeling, if anything it amplifies those feelings because those people may just be validating your emotions and you may continue to avoid resolution.  So just be honest and let her in on what you have been feeling, allow her space to say what she needs to express. She might have things to share too. If you feel overwhelmed, maybe write down a few key points that you would like to address before going in and remember big deep breathes. If you start to feel yourself become highly emotional excuse yourself for a minute, check your breathing and continue the conversation when ready. The hardest conversations are usually with friends and family, but they still need to happen, you can’t control what response you will get but at least you were vulnerable and said what was in your heart. 

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About the Therapist:
Selene Burley, is a LMFT & the owner of Brighter Thinking Therapy. She is located in California and provides telehealth therapy across the state to adults struggling with depression, anxiety, and those along their path to managing stressors that can present during the transitions of becoming parents.


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