“My friend is deeply hurting. She lost (fill in the blank.) I’m at a loss. What should I do?”
You’ve probably been in this situation. Someone for whom you care just had something very, very bad or sad happen to him or her. You want to help, but you feel frozen and don’t know how to respond. You care about your friend, but feel clueless.
You want to help and not hurt. What should you do?
In my life experience, I’ve been on both sides – wanting to reach out to someone who is hurting or needing someone to reach out to me. I’ve learned that there are three, key things to do when someone is in pain or suffering.
- Tell your friend that you care. Don’t assume that he/or she knows that you care. Tell your friend either in person, via a phone call, snail mail card, email or text. However you do it, tell her you care. (If your friend’s love languages are words and spending time with others, tell your friend that you care in person. A short visit will go a long way to someone who has these love languages.)
- Listen more than talk. You may feel pressure to say the “perfect” words to someone who is hurting. Don’t put this expectation on yourself. No one is perfect at handling hard life circumstances or major losses. Think of an open-ended question before you talk to your friend – a question that may get him to share what he is thinking or feeling. Approaching the conversation with a listening heart frees you up to be both supportive and understanding.
- Just be there. Show up and be present during the hard times. Your loyal friendship and caring attitude may be what your friend most needs to move forward after a loss or during a difficult life season. You can’t fix your friend’s situation nor should you. Be present either physically, emotionally or spiritually.
Two things that I’ve learned not to do when a friend is hurting:
- Saying “I know just how you feel.” Your intent may be to use this phrase to show empathy, but it’s actually a hard thing for your friend to hear. No one knows exactly how another person feels, so this statement is not really a true, empathetic response. This statement also prevents a deep authentic conversation. Your friend won’t have anywhere to go in the conversation because if you already know how he feels, what more can he even begin to share?
- Promise to be present and not show up. Ouch. This one is hurtful. When your friend is hurting, he or she may really be leaning into your promises. If you make a commitment, it’s important to follow-through. If you don’t, your friend won’t trust your words and behavior. It’s probably better to not make promises that you can’t keep.
Life is truly a journey of learning how to best support our family, friends and loved ones during hard times. Not one of us is a perfect friend. I’m so grateful for the grace my friends have extended to me. I hope they feel that I’ve been gracious to them as well.
The important thing is to learn from each situation and grow to be kinder, more loving and compassionate to the people around us. Ultimately, as the saying goes, “Treat your friend the way that you’d want to be treated.” If we do, our relationships promise to grow in depth and impact.