Dear Therapist:

I am a bocher who has a lot of friends in shidduchim and one of my best friends is about to start. Now this friend went through a very rough childhood and his father was very abusive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. His parents never really got along and they went to family therapy. Now from what I see that wasn't enough and I think there is a lot more he needs to work on before entering the parsha. My question is how I tell him that he needs to go to therapy and get help. He is my best friend and I know him very well; we grew up together. He needs help before he is going to be able to take care of a wife and kids. He needs help and I don't know how to let him know the truth. I would appreciate it if you could help me with this question.  



In my opinion, one of the gauges of true friendship is the ability to place the other person’s needs before your own. Other measures of true friendship are empathy and emotional communication. Empathy refers to the ability to feel for the other person from their perspective. This differs from sympathy, in which we feel bad for someone else from our own perspective.

You are clearly concerned for your friend. Are you concerned based on your own experience of his situation? For instance, are you assuming that he feels a certain way based on how you would feel in that situation? Is the emotional communication in your relationship clear enough for you to truly understand your friend’s needs, feelings, and capabilities? If so, there is a better chance that your friendship allows for open and honest communication about your concerns. Of course, you need to take into account any sensitivities that your friend may have about discussing intimate issues.

When we talk about sympathy and the degree to which this refers to your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, the question becomes whether part of your concern is a projection of your own feelings and needs onto your friend. Are your fears for him entirely based on your objective understanding of his situation? Or are they, in part, affected by your own feelings and defense mechanisms and coping skills?

If you are certain that your concerns are objectively valid, do you have a sense as to whether your friend has been troubled by similar concerns? Or do you have the sense that he is blind to these issues? If he does have some concerns, it will likely be easier to discuss these with him. Otherwise, he may not be ready to address these.

It sounds like you would really like to discuss your concerns with your friend, but are concerned about how he may react. Is this concern about hurting him, or about hurting your relationship? If the latter, are you more concerned about his loss or your own?

If you believe that you are the person to whom he is most likely to respond positively, and you recognize that the conversation must be had, then the logical answer is that you should be the one to approach him. If, however, there is someone else who is less emotionally involved, and whose opinion your friend respects, this might be a better option.

If you do decide share your concerns with your friend, try to bear in mind both his sensitivities and your own needs—and the fact that these are often difficult to separate from one another. You can try feeling him out on the topic to ascertain whether he has his own concerns. You may find that he wants to discuss the issue himself, but has his own reservations about broaching the subject. Of course, I don’t know your friend, but hopefully easing into the discussion would make it easier for the both of you to speak openly and honestly. In fact, doing so has the potential to further strengthen your relationship.


-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 516-218-4200


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