How to comfort someone who is sad, hurting or going through a hard time in a way that lets them know you're here to help

  • A clinical psychologist gives us some tips on how to help an unhappy friend
  • Sometimes, just knowing they have someone who cares is enough
Nicola Chan |

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It can be hard finding the right words to comfort a friend who is going through a hard time. Sometimes “I’m here for you” can seem like it’s not enough to express how much you feel for them. Whether it’s a family fight, a bad break-up, or the death of someone close, you might want to make things better – even when you can’t. You might try to help them by offering them solutions to their problems, even when that’s not what is wanted.

A clinical psychologist told Young Post that sometimes, all a person really needs is to know that someone is ready to listen to them.

“When [your friends] are grieving … it’s important for [them] to know that they have someone to talk to and turn to,” Dr Monica Borschel, a specialist in loss and attachment, says.

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The most helpful thing a person can do is to listen, without judging them, she adds.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, though, because humans naturally want to judge, and fix, problems.

At times, our solutions might sound less than helpful. For example, if a friend is upset about a break-up, your response might be to tell your friend they “need to get over it” or “move on”, because their ex wasn’t a good person anyway.

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However, emotions are never wrong, Borschel says. She says the best thing to do in that situation would be to not comment on your friend’s troubles. It’s better to sit and listen to them.

To comfort an unhappy friend, it might be better to tell him or her that you would be sad, too, if you were going through what they are. “Tell them ‘I’m here for you’, and reassure them that ‘it’s okay to cry’,” Borschel says.

“People bottle up their tears because they’re ashamed to cry in front of [other people],” she says, adding that is why we should always let our friends know that they have a shoulder to cry on.

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“People don’t always know how to cope with grief … [it] is one of those emotions we don’t have [often].”

We don’t always understand what grief is, Borshel says, and this is especially true for young people who are experiencing huge losses for the very first time.

“Sometimes, [the sufferers] might even devalue themselves, or think they’re worthless and unlovable,” Borschel says. That’s why you should use kind words to show that you care about your friend, while reminding them of their amazing qualities and strengths.

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“It’s very important to know that you don’t have to solve your friends’ problems,” says Borschel. If it starts to become a more serious issue, she adds, for example, if your friend begins to talk about harming themselves or worse, then you should not be dealing with it. Your friend should, in that situation, get professional help.

When you are sad, it can seem like the easiest thing to unburden your troubles onto a friend. But, Borschel says, you should not expect a friend to put aside their own problems to solely deal with yours, nor expect they will have the emotional capacity to do so.

So what should be done, when a friend is (or you are) upset? Borshel says it’s down to what the troubled person wants. Being honest about it, whether it’s advice, or just a willing ear and a big hug, is best. Sometimes, “I’m here for you” is honestly all that’s needed for someone to know that someone out there cares about them.

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