Have you ever been in a situation where a friend is struggling but you didn’t know what to say to them? Most of us have been in that awkward place where we want to reach out but don’t because of fear of saying the wrong thing. Some people are naturals when it comes to knowing exactly what to say, whether the moment is sad, happy, or angry. For those of us who could use a little help in this department, read on!
How to Be Supportive
What does supportive action and words actually look like in practice? According to Rachel Wilkerson Miller, the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People, “Showing up is the act of bearing witness to people’s joy, pain, and true selves.” In its pages, Miller shares some great examples of how to support loved ones who are struggling in both word and deed. Miller says that being compassionate is as simple as, “validating their experiences, easing their load, and communicating that they are not alone in this life.”
Keep Your Focus on Your Loved One
For instance, have you ever chimed in with a similar story when a friend or family member is confiding in you? It’s a natural thing to do when we want to show the person that we can relate to what they’re saying. But when we do this, the focus of the conversation moves away from your friend and their struggle and becomes about you. Miller says to avoid this common mistake and just focus on the person and listen. Yes, it’s tempting to share your own similar experiences, but doing so could send a message that you don’t want to listen to what others have to say at that moment.
That doesn’t mean you can’t let the person know you’ve been through something similar, but just mention it and let your friend tell you if they want to hear about it but after they are done sharing. As Miller notes, “It’s the best of both worlds. You get to tell them they’re not alone, but you’re not going to bore them with a story about how your pet died after their sibling died. You can let them decide if these things are related or not.”
Sometimes we feel pressured to know what our friends need but we’re not mind readers—just ask! According to Miller here are some helpful things to ask a loved one who is struggling:
- How are you feeling about the struggle you’re going through?
- What’s the best way I can support you right now?
- Do you need someone to vent to or do you want some advice?
- Tell me what you’re thinking right now?
Asking a loved one what you can do for them or offering your ear can be comforting. Some people may just want to know that you are available if they do feel like talking later, and knowing they have someone to listen can go a long way.
Don’t Underestimate the Value of, “I’m Sorry”
Miller suggests that simply saying, “I’m sorry,” in response to a loved one’s pain can be very soothing and validating. “Sometimes there isn’t a perfect response that is going to make people feel better,” she says. “What you want to do is communicate, ‘You’re not alone. I’m with you. This sucks. I’m so sorry it’s happening to you.’”
Avoid using clichés, even though they are an easy go-to when we might not know what to say. Sometimes platitudes are the very first thing that comes to mind but they can seem to minimize a situation. For instance, saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” may not be what your friend needs to hear when they are struggling with strong emotions. Stick to a few helpful words like, “I’m sorry,” and listen, that’s all you need to do.
On a related note, Miller suggests staying away from statistics. It may be true that 50% of marriages end in divorce but a friend who has just discovered their partner is cheating won’t be comforted by this fact. “Feel with your friend the bigness of what they’re going through,” Miller says. “Remember that just because it happens to a lot of people doesn’t mean it’s any less devastating.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder or any of the co-occurring mental health concerns, Starbent Recovery is waiting for you. Lifelong recovery is possible and hope for a brighter future exists at Starbent. Our professional, dedicated staff have the understanding, experience, and compassion necessary to support each resident’s clinical treatment team goals. Our safe, peer residence offers luxury amenities and is located in the heart of upscale Tribeca close to multiple subway lines and surrounded by trendy dining and shopping. To learn more about our premier women’s recovery residence, call us at (800) 673-0176.