It’s one of the hardest things in life to see someone close to you hurting. Even more so when there is absolutely nothing you can do to ease their pain. All of us have been in a position where someone confides in you for support.
All my life I didn’t know what to do, especially when someone starts crying I’d lightly tap them on their shoulder and say something useless like “It’s going to be okay.” But I’m pretty sure it didn’t comfort my friends or make them feel ANY better.
So I did some research. What’s the best way to support someone in a tough situation, especially the really tough times. Like losing a loved one, dealing with illness or a break-up. In all these cases someone is dealing with loss, loss that you can’t make up for or change. And telling them that it will be okay is not going to make it better.
No one-size-fits-all fix
Being a supporting friend isn’t an easy task. You need to support them, help them and push them to get through a situation. So you need to be endearing, empathetic, sympathetic and even tough at times. There’s no cover-all way of supporting a friend. Because each individual will need support in a different way. If someone confides in you for support, it’s because they trust you, and you likely know them. Keep who they are in mind, when you support them. Some people will want actual active advice: “The best thing for you to do is to write it all down and get it out.” other will want “It’s going to be okay, I’m here for you.” some will only want you to listen to them, just listen. And a rare few will want tough love: “It’s time to move on from this, so wipe those tears, and be as tough as I know you can be.”
The best thing you can do is to stay actively aware when you are with them. Aware of their needs and the type of ‘mourning’ they are going through. Sometimes it will be rage, so encourage them to let it all out, but do not let them go down the rabbit hole. Say things like: “It’s okay to let it all out, that’s why I’m here.” “I can’t imagine what you must be feeling, so I’m here for you to get it out of your system.” “I am not judging you, it’s okay to be angry.”
If they’re questioning it all, just listen, do not try to answer their questions. “Why did this happen to me?” respond encouraging but endearing: “I know it’s tough, but if anyone can get through this, it’s you.” (if you truly believe this.)
If someone’s been dragging themselves down for too long, and it’s time for tough love, give it to them, they confide in you because they trust you enough to not judge them, but also help them. You can use phrases like: “I know you can get through this, but it is time for you to choose to move on from this. Wipe off those tears, and remember who you are.”
Be an honest and kind friend. Listen to listen, and not to respond. It’s okay to say “I don’t know what to say.” or “I can’t imagine what it must be like.” but encourage them, and remind them that they are not alone, and that you are there, always, and patient. Let them now that it is okay if they want to repeat themselves and cry about the same thing a 100 times over. Because that is WHY you are there.
Never make them feel like they are annoying you or that you do not have time. Everyone needs someone. And lastly, always be honest with them, but choose your words carefully, the last thing you want to do is to hurt them even more. Support your friend even if you do not support their situation. If you can relate to any emotion they’re having, let them know.
“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.”
– Arnold H. Glasgow