How to Help Those We Love
How to Comfort Someone
When a friend or family member is upset or sad, it’s easy to feel helpless and unsure how to make them feel better. It’s normal to feel a little awkward about asking someone what’s wrong, or offering your support, but doing so can be a tremendous help for the person in need. Understanding how to best comfort someone who is upset can help ease those feelings of helplessness or awkwardness.
Listening and Responding Thoughtfully
Ask the person what is bothering them.It might seem simple, but asking someone what is bothering them if it isn’t already clear could be exactly what they need. They may have been struggling with something all day and wishing someone would reach out to them and ask what’s wrong. Be there for them and be the first to break the ice.
- If you already know what’s wrong, you might ask the person to elaborate on it. Ask, “How do you feel?” or “What do you think about that?”
Let them speak.Even if you want to chime in and offer your feedback or opinion on their problems, try to keep them to yourself. People who are upset don’t necessarily want to hear opinions or advice. More often than not, they simply need empathy and understanding.
- Don’t suggest alternative solutions or tell them what to do. If they are already upset, they likely won’t find comfort in suggestions to keep dealing with whatever is bothering them. Instead, just try to listen and let them get it all off their chest.
Validate their pain.One of the best things you can say to someone who is upset is: “That’s really upsetting, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with that.” Letting them know that their pain is legitimate can help them feel comforted.
- Try not to tell them that everything will be okay, or that things will work out eventually. For all you know, things won’t be okay, or they won’t work out. When comforting someone in crisis, just validating their negative feelings can help them get past those feelings, without offering them any false promises. Tell them, “You’re right to feel how you do.”
- Say something like, “It’s okay to cry. What you’re going through is hard, and if you need to be upset, you should let yourself be.”
Avoid telling them to calm down.Rather than simply trying to banish their negative feelings, try and have them explore those feelings and get them out, instead. Telling someone who is upset to calm down or get over it likely won’t help them feel any better.
- Telling someone to calm down or urging them to brush off whatever is making them upset will only push the problem under the rug, so to speak. It won’t help them address it and work towards resolving or getting past it in a healthy way.
- It might be your first instinct to try and avoid an awkward situation—especially if the upset person is crying. But, if someone is being vulnerable and open with you, you should do the same in return, rather than trying to avoid it.
Avoid making it about yourself.Rather than telling them that you’ve been in their position, or even that you’ve been through something worse, let the moment be theirs. Be there as support rather than to compare your own struggles to theirs.
- Instead of making it about you, say something like “I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Is there anything I can do?”
Let them know you’re there.When listening, respond now and then with affirmative noises, like “mmmhmm,” to let the person know you’re considering everything they’re saying. Let them know you’re there to listen, and that you care.
Sit with them.Sometimes, people just need to sit with their sadness. It’s not a bad thing to let someone feel their feelings. Allowing the person to cry on your shoulder, or even just sitting quietly beside them can help them feel comforted, even without speaking.
- If you’ve ever been really upset, you might have felt like you wanted to be alone, or like you didn’t really want to talk about what was bothering you. You probably know from experience that someone just letting you know you could talk if you needed to, but not pushing it on you, was all the comfort you needed.
Offer to go for a walk with them.Sometimes, getting up and moving while talking things over can be a little less intimidating or awkward than simply sitting face to face. Offer to get up and leave the situation. Offer to go for a walk, or to go get some coffee. Moving to a new place might also help them feel more calm or relaxed.
- A change of scenery can be helpful. Try suggesting something like, “Would you like to go for a walk and get a cup of coffee? I think some fresh air could be helpful. We can talk on the way there.”
Discourage them from making any decisions.When someone is upset, they aren’t exactly in the best state of mind to make any decisions, especially regarding what’s upsetting them. Don’t encourage them to do anything or to take action with the situation. Encourage them instead to take some time to think things through and calm down before making any decisions.
- If your friend’s significant other just left them, for example, don’t encourage them to find someone new right away, or to say nasty things about their ex. Instead, let them vent, validate their feelings, and encourage them to take some time to settle before taking any further action.
Do something nice for them.If someone is going through a tough time, one easy way to comfort them is to do something nice for them, like bringing them something to eat, running an errand for them, or even just offering them a hug.
- If your friend has children or pets, offer to take care of them while your friend takes some time to themselves. If they’re feeling busy or overwhelmed, ask how you can be of help.
Knowing When to Take Action
Look for warning signs.If your friend has been sad or depressed for a long period of time, they may not be suffering from something acute. Make sure you watch for signs of depression in your friend if this happens.
- Signs of depression can include prolonged hopelessness, changes in appetite, sleeping too much or feeling tired often, a clear loss of interest in things they used to like (like spending time with friends), poor self-esteem, and even irritability.
Ask questions.If you notice your friend seems to be upset for a prolonged period of time, speak up and ask them what’s going on. Ask them how they have been feeling and how they’re doing. Ask them if they’ve had any major changes in their lifestyle lately. Keep communication open.
- You might also ask your friend what things seem to make them feel better, and what things seem to make the situation feel worse. Not only will this help you find things to comfort them with, but it will also help you know what things to avoid.
Connect your friend to resources.If your friend is showing signs of depression, encourage them to seek counseling or therapy. If you educate yourself on the issue, you will be better equipped to offer some suggestions on what steps they could take to help themselves get healthy.
- Some resources might even be online groups where your friend could seek anonymous help from people suffering from similar issues. This might be a better option if they aren’t very receptive to the idea of therapy, or to in-person support groups.
Urge them to get help if they are having suicidal thoughts.If your friend expresses any suicidal thoughts or ideations, direct them to a suicide hotline or to the nearest hospital. You should always take these kinds of threats seriously, and do what you can to get your friend the help they need when they are in crisis.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. There is also a Crisis Text Line; simply text “START” to 741-741 (in the US) and you will be connected with a trained volunteer.
- Remember that not everyone deals with things the same way you do. Don’t urge your own coping methods onto your distraught friend. Instead, help them recognize their own strengths.
Video: How to Comfort a Friend in 3 Easy Steps
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