Dear Tiff: Should I lend my friend money for therapy?
I really want to help her, but by acknowledging the financial disparity between us am I massively overstepping a boundary?
This article was originally posted in my newsletter - the Tiff Weekly.
I have a friend who is having a difficult time- struggling to find work as a freelancer having recently had a baby, and money is tight. I am in a position where I really want to help her, as I can see that she is depressed and that the depression and anxiety will not be conducive to her finding work. I’ve thought about offering to loan her money so that she could have some therapy (which she used to have but can’t afford any more) but feel instinctively very uncomfortable about this. It feels like it could be really useful to her, but also like by acknowledging the financial disparity between us I’m massively overstepping a boundary.
How can I support her at this difficult time, and would it be right to suggest financial support?
Dear Concerned Pal,
Oh how I recognise that familiar urge to fix a problem and to want to do something as you see a friend is in pain. It hurts us to see it, we feel the pain with them and we’re desperate to do something to alleviate their pain (and also ours). But why we want to help and how we want to help tells us more about ourselves than it does the other person.
My first question is why do you really want to help? On one level, it’s that familiar urge to fix that we all have. It’s the enemy of listening. How many times have you shared a problem and felt wounded by someone saying, ‘why don’t you do xyz’? The answer, the ‘solution’ that could possibly fix something is rarely the point of the conversation and rarely the role of a friend. However, that desire to fix comes from a place of deep empathy and compassion. It hurts us to see those we love suffer and so we look to see what we can do to solve that problem rather than to simply do nothing but listen.
Then, I wonder, based on your potential solution to lend your friend money, whether that’s driven by your own complicated feelings and perhaps feelings of guilt about your own financial situation? Perhaps you’re someone who’s had a stable job for a long time, who didn’t get royally f***ked in the arse by the pandemic or you have family money. Whatever it may be, I ask you to examine if you’re holding onto some money guilt.
You say that your worry is that by offering your friend money, you’ll expose the financial disparity between you. However, what that really will acknowledge is something far worse - the unfairness gap that exists between you. We hate unfairness, unfairness is wrong and it makes us angry. If we said we were ‘pro unfairness’ we’d be seen as morally corrupt, and yet unfairness is the reality we exist in. By denying or shying away from its existence, we’re making the problem way worse.
I don’t know your situation and I don’t know hers, but what I do know is that there are a series of moments in our lives - a mix of decisions, luck and fortune and a path that starts at birth that has led to this moment where this financial gap exists between you. It’s acknowledging that unfairness and all has come from before that’s really uncomfortable between friends.
Privilege is complicated. The privilege can be that you’re someone who can cope with a full time job and you got lucky that it weathered the storms of lockdowns and she happens to be working in an industry that is more precarious. Perhaps she has to freelance because of her mental health, perhaps you have to have a job because of yours. I could talk about this forever, but the point is - that’s where the discomfort exists and that’s what I am asking you to examine. Do you feel that perhaps you don’t deserve to be where you are? What does acknowledging that unfairness stir up in you?
But this is complicated. You don’t need to carry the burden of our whole economic system and unfair society on your shoulders. Us freelancers, have to hustle for every pound we make, only get paid for our output and have to be on good form every damn day. It’s exhausting! We don’t get paid for our time or by just showing up and then we it’s all the more painful because we believe that we’ve chosen to work this way. But is it ever really a choice? Some of us simply can’t work in jobs and that can make our lives harder and our finances take a hit. So the unfairness that will be exposed is about so much more than money, or even our economy or society. It’s about who you are as people and how the dice has been rolled. Perhaps you’d benefit from examining your own beliefs about the ‘work hard and you’ll succeed’ narrative. Do you feel undeserving and that’s fuelling your money guilt?
By the way, I’m sure your friend is very, very aware of the financial disparity between you already. But by giving her money, will you absolve yourself of that guilt (which is not your full burden to carry?) Will it make you feel better? Perhaps briefly. But it’s interesting how philanthropy culture exists with greater oomph in societies with greater income equality and inadequate welfare systems. Perhaps if guilt is driving you and you have a strong desire for action, there’s plenty of ways you could do your small but meaningful part to improve the situation. Vote for politicians who give a shit about poor people, campaign for change, refuse to hire unpaid interns. Heck, perhaps even think of your friend to try to hire more freelancers in your own company. So yes, do do do and take action, just don’t focus on the doing when it comes to your friend!
Should you lend your friend money? You say you instinctively feel very uncomfortable about this and so the answer to your question is a hard no. Your insides know that it’s not a good idea. As well as listening to the strong warning coming from your gut, the questions one must ask before they lend their friend money are: do you know how much you would have to lend (therapy can be a long, ongoing process). Would you be happy if you were never paid back? And the most important question of them all - would you be happy to hand over the money if you knew that it wasn’t going to work?
Because here’s the thing - if you lend your friend money to go therapy, it’s unlikely it’s going to ‘work.’ In fact, I’d argue it almost certainly won’t work. The thing with change is that we are only able to change when we’re ready and when it’s something that we truly want. Our desire to change needs to be so strong that we’re willing to overcome the discomfort and hardship to get there. Change is a hard, hard, process and it only works if you want to do it and if it comes at a cost to you.
Trying to change before you’re ready, especially with the added pressure and expectation of a friend who’s invested in your change, isn’t going to work. It is unbelievably annoying, but we can’t change other people or make them do things. That desire, that hunger to change, has to come from within.
But don’t feel helpless! Our job as a friend isn’t to fix things or to find solutions, but to simply listen. The problem is that listening is hard. The thing is, offering someone to go to therapy can actually come across as silencing. I know you don’t mean it this way, but you’ll friend will hear it as ‘go somewhere else to talk about this; go get fixed.’
The problem with being a good friend and a good listener is that it’s hard work that forces us to be very self-aware. We have to sit in the discomfort of our perceived helplessness. It forces us to be patient as we hear the same complaint on repeat, while our friends take no action. We have to accept that our job is to simply listen and input as best we can. And here’s the hardest part. We have to suspend our own judgment based on our own experiences and avoid bringing our own shit into the person’s problem.
I wonder if you suggest therapy because it’s something that worked for you (that’s bringing your shit into the problem).
Perhaps you’re offering money because you believe that it’s money that has got you to where you are today and why you’re not in the hard situation your friend finds herself in (that’s also bringing your own shit).
For someone who’s had an amazing network to help them with work, they may look at your friend’s problem and see the solution as to introduce them to people to find them job opportunities. Another friend may have found childcare helped them get back into work and therefore offer to help your friend with that (or even offering to pay for childcare). Another friend may have gone on an online course that ‘worked’ etc. the list is endless. And of course, we can share our experiences and help our friends in these ways if that’s what they ask for our need. But we need to be aware of what we’re bringing from our own lives when we offer solutions.
Your friends need to be ready for the solutions, they need to want them and they need to be right for them. How many times have we helped friends with a work introduction and they haven’t followed through or prepared properly for the meeting and then we’ve been frustrated with them? This happens because the problem that needs solving isn’t always what we think it is and our job as a good listener is to accept that.
I don’t mean to berate you here! We ALL DO THIS. This urge to fix and to bring ourselves into everything. We’re all wandering around as the leading stars in the movie of our lives. It’s human nature and I want you to hear what I’m saying with compassion. You’re clearly a very very good friend. Your friend trusts you and feels safe to share the intimate knowledge of her situation. Few people share their depression, anxiety and money woes with their friends. You’re already doing an amazing job of being a great friend. You just have to battle against a culture that seeks to fix and challenge your own beliefs based on your own experiences.
If you’re able to do that, so you can continue to listen and to be a good friend, you have no idea how powerful that is. This is much harder work, you have to sit in an uncomfortable examination of yourself, be patient and sit in the discomfort of your perceived helplessness. We aren’t heroes or saviours, but we’re playing supporting roles in other people’s lives.
Our friends aren’t there to fix us, but to sit beside us, feel our pain and listen. You may find that once someone feels truly heard and in a place of trust, they may begin to entertain the idea of change once they’re ready. And when that times comes, you can consider their options with them, but those options need to come from that person and they need to be things they can afford or want to do. A good friend and a good listener is what we truly need. Your friend may be struggling right now but to have a friend who sits by her and truly listens is more meaningful than all the freelance gigs or therapy sessions in the world and it’s something that money can’t buy.