Most of us desperately want to comfort our friends and family when they’re struggling, but we often don’t know what to say. A friend is going through a divorce, a family member is waiting on scary test results, your child feels excluded at school. We want to help, we want to ease their pain, but how do we do that in a way that is actually helpful? In this video, learn a simple formula for delivering a compassionate and comforting response to those we care about most.
Most of us are pretty good at the “encourage” portion of this formula. It’s the “acknowledge” portion that’s harder. The “acknowledge” portion of this formula involves sitting with friends in their pain, no matter how big or scary. Only then, can we truly hear their experience, offering a compassionate and comforting response.
Practice this formula this week with people in your life. It will probably feel a little strange at first, but stick with it. Your loved ones will appreciate it. Plus, I think you’ll feel better about your ability to comfort the people you love. Acknowledge + encourage!
Want a little more help knowing what to say to a friend is going through a hard time? Start here with what not to say.
Acknowledgement and encouragement are all well and good – and I think that the “formula” is useful for MOST people, but I think there’s a smaller percentage of people in society that find intelligent responses more useful. For myself, I have found that speaking with someone that I feel REALLY UNDERSTANDS the message is FAR more valuable. Gauging comprehension can be a difficult thing to judge, but some criteria could be:
-when a person can site examples of a similar experience in their lives, or the lives of people they have known and discuss it with detail and depth.
-when someone recognizes patterns/phenomena or underlying significance to events or interactions that produced the negative emotions.
-when someone offers new insight or perspective regarding an experience, especially with stories of the outcomes of similar situations in the past, or potential outcomes of the current situation.
I think, for a limited few of us, it’s less about “comforting” than it is about being heard, understood, and being offered meaningful feedback/perspectives. Perhaps one way of looking at it could be that a close friend might actually put themselves in someone’s shoes and try to think “What would I do?” and take the situation seriously, placing it close to their heart, and sharing their thought process and emotional response as if they were in that situation themselves. Perhaps some would label this as “empathy”.
Lastly, I would add that talking with someone is an important way to help them with negative feelings, but there are other actions too that can and should be utilized in tandem… like inviting a friend out to do an activity (walk, bike ride, shared meal, board game, etc.) and that in the darker moments that you don’t take “no” for an answer. Depending on the person in question, it may be more suitable to actually engage the suffering person in an activity where they are “working” or otherwise being “useful” – inviting them over to help you rake leaves in your yard or paint a room in one’s house, for example. Also, calling/texting or otherwise “checking-in” is invaluable – daily at the least, and if it’s real bad, then I would say hourly if necessary. Even if you just text somebody a smiley face every hour or two, or some little positive saying, or a funny picture, or something… or perhaps the person would benefit from more cynical material, like a George Carlin video complaining about how dumb people can be, or some dark humor like that… A good friend would know another friend’s aesthetic and act accordingly… so it’s a multifaceted approach of talking and action. I’m a big fan of unannounced or unplanned in-person visits too.