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How to Comfort Someone in Need

how to comfort someone
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 1388843

We have all experienced sadness, but knowing how to comfort someone in a time of need is a beautiful and special skill, which may make all the difference to a person’s health and well-being.

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to comfort someone. We may feel awkward, or stuck for words. We may not have experienced what someone else is going through, so may not know the right course of action in those circumstances. We have a natural human urge to help others, especially when they are hurting.

Knowing how to assist them can make a huge difference in their experience. You may not be able to make anything go away, but you can provide care and support, in a variety of ways.

Maybe you have a friend that just breaks down in tears, and you have no idea why… maybe someone has lost a loved one and is journeying through grief… maybe a life-changing experience that wasn’t wanted has appeared in someone’s life, be that a break-up, a job loss, a medical diagnosis… There are so many reasons that someone may be in desperate need of comfort, and love.

It may be our first instinct to offer a hug, or words of advice, but before we attempt to help, it is important to think about our approach, and how well we know the person in question, and their needs.

How to Comfort Someone

When offering comfort, the primary aim is to let someone know they have support. It may be that we can lighten their load a little, or it may be that there is very little we can do in terms of easing someone’s burden. Comfort is a sign we are present for someone in need, and to show that they are cared for and understood.

Comfort can take many forms, and may likely be different for different people, which is why we discuss various ways of approaching and assisting someone who is in some degree of emotional pain or distress. The important thing is that we stay calm, be patient, and allow the person in distress time to move through their emotions.

Never underestimate the power of kind words and actions.

1. Listening

Sometimes being able to spill your heart out is very therapeutic, so being able to listen, and bear witness to someone else feelings can help them voice and comprehend what it is they are going through.

Although you may wish to comfort by giving advice, it may be more in a person’s interest to just talk and bring themselves to their own conclusions, or accept their journey. If you feel a person needs to hear some words from you at this point, you can show you are listening by repeating some things back and affirming their feelings. You can rephrase what they have said, say that you are there for them, and show that you have heard them.

2. Choosing the Right Words

Knowing how to comfort someone means knowing what to say, and what to avoid saying.
Knowing how to comfort someone means knowing what to say, and what to avoid saying.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Peggy_Marco)

We may think we have the answer to help our loved one, or other person in need, but when thinking about how to comfort someone, we can choose words that support and empower, rather than trying to change the focus of the conversation to what we might do in such a situation. Instead of offering advice, especially if unasked for, you can express your care in a way that soothes and nourishes.

  • As mentioned above, you can relay their words back, for example, if they say they are struggling and upset, you could say something like: “I really get that you’re struggling, and are upset. It must be difficult.”
  • You can empathize, but just be sure that you don’t move the conversation to your experiences over theirs. You could let that person know that you understand by saying something along the lines of: “I’ve felt like this before too, so I know a little of how you feel, but I’m here to listen.”
  • Of course, it’s also fine if you haven’t experienced anything like what they are going through. It’s good to be open and honest, for example: “I can only imagine what you’re going through. Must be so hard. If you want to talk, I’m here for you.”

Check out our 30 examples of words of affirmation to get some inspiration on how to express your love for someone, even outside of moments of crisis.

3. Allow Them to Express Their Feelings

Allow the person in need of comfort to draw out, and reflect on their feelings by giving them a listening ear, kind words, and time. Doing so is part of the healing process, and allows them to come to terms with whatever is happening, rather than blocking it out. 

If someone may need some encouragement to open up, you can ask questions that don’t lead them in a certain direction, but allows for this contemplation, such as:

  • “What happened?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “How do you feel now?”
  • “Do you want to talk about it?”
  • “Do you know what you might do now?”

How appropriate the questions are may depend on the situation. It is also most ok to let a person express their emotions through tears, or other physical forms of emotional release, such as having a shout at the top of a hill, or throwing pebbles into a lake, if that’s what they want to do, as long as they are safe and secure.

These are not steps that should be followed one at a time, and gauging what a person needs is a skill in itself, but again, allowing them to lead, and you being there to support can bring them a certain sense of control within what may be their world of current chaos.

4. Don’t Feel You Need to Cheer Them Up

It is totally fine to just be present with your friend in need. Don’t engage in toxic positivity by pressuring them to find a ‘silver lining’ in what they are experiencing, or to suppress their unpleasant emotions. Their emotion is real, and in the moment. It is unlikely to go away by distraction.

This does not mean you can’t try a cheering-up strategy, and later in the text we suggest ways of offering activities to take someone’s mind off their difficulties when the time is right. However, it is important not to try and minimize someone’s current pain and upset.

If someone is crying, they likely have a need to cry. Crying is a very human behavior, to release pent-up emotion. It may feel natural to say “don’t cry”, or “cheer up”, but try to avoid this if you can. It may also be tempting to suggest that they will feel better soon but remember they are in the moment and grief takes many stages. Such suggestions may be met with defense and prove counter-intuitive. 

5. A Hug

A hug can speak a thosand words, but only if it's wanted.
A hug can speak a thosand words, but only if it’s wanted.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / ambermb)

If the person in need is someone close to you, whom you are used to having physical contact with, then a hug may indeed be the best medicine. Yet it is still worth asking them if they would appreciate a hug, rather than barging straight in. Physical contact with a loved one can be very soothing, and allow for the emotion to come out. It may be that they begin to cry immediately, which you can just allow.

Even someone not so close, even a stranger, may value a hug, but it must always come with consent. It can feel very intimidating, and awkward, to be hugged, especially by someone you don’t know so well. Thus, allow people to maintain their boundaries, if that’s what they wish or need to do. This is the same for any kind of physical contact.

Other types of body contact can be used to express support or love. Learn more about how to leverage them in a healthy and consensual way in our article on the ‘touch’ love language.

6. What Are Their Needs?

Sometimes just being in somones company can bring great comfort.
Sometimes just being in somones company can bring great comfort.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / stevepb)

Once someone has been able to talk, sit with, or release some of their emotions, they may be ready for a distraction, or as the above coined it ‘some cheering up’ (just know it’s not your job to try and make them forget what they are experiencing, but if they wish you can make some suggestions, or ask them for theirs).

You can simply ask them what their needs are, be they current or in the future. They may wish for some space, in which case, just let them know you, (or someone else), is there for them when they are ready.

Listen and respond as best you can. Here are some suggestions for distractions if they are wished for:

  • Ask if they’d like to go for a walk with you. This may also enable conversation and reflection.
  • Maybe they’d like to go for a cup of tea or coffee somewhere.
  • It might be worth suggesting a meet-up with friends, reassuring them that it doesn’t have to be fun and laughs, but just friends there for each other.

Once you have offered up a few suggestions, let them lead, and don’t force someone to try and dis-engage with their emotion.

Methods of Communicating

In today’s world, it may be that we are not physically present with the person who is suffering. Knowing how to comfort someone if you are not close by, can bring relief and support to them, and to you, knowing that you still may be able to help. This is especially important if you are maintaining a long-distance friendship with the person in need.

The mobile phone is wonderful for bringing people together in a virtual environment. You can call someone up, and be there to listen and offer those kind, understanding words. You can call someone without video call, if they are crying and don’t want to be seen, or you can see each other, acknowledging that it’s ok to be upset and that how they look doesn’t matter one little bit, what is important is that they let it out and begin to heal.

You could also text or message, this is a good way of keeping in touch, and the person in need can reply in their own time.

However you comfort someone, the main thing is that you do. Feeling alone in a time of sadness can be very upsetting in itself. We have all been through sad experiences, and we can only hope that when we are in that place, then others too will offer us the same love and care.

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