How to comfort someone going through tough times

04 April 2017 - Mindful Practices

“When someone is crying, of course, the noble thing to do is to comfort them. But if someone is trying to hide their tears, it may also be noble to pretend you do not notice them.” – Lemony Snicket

As much as we want to be there for our loved ones, we sometimes find we don’t know how. Comforting someone the wrong way can sometimes make things worse despite our best intentions. What are some general starter tips to keep in mind when offering comfort?

1. Make contact.

The act of offering comfort may seem daunting especially when you don’t know the person well. But here’s the thing: it never hurts to try to offer comfort gently. Letting them know that you care is often comfort enough to most people.

2. Listen mindfully and actively.

When a loved one is suffering, our first instinct is to try to fix the problem for them, such as by offering advice. However, unless they asked for it, doing so may make them feel more stressed. Instead, ask them how they’re feeling and listen mindfully.

a) Listen to understand, not respond.
b) Practise reflective listening. Repeat what they’ve said in your own words. This will validate their emotions and help you clarify your understanding of the situation.

3. Empathise and be patient.

a) Validate rather than trivialise.
• Do say: “That must feel horrible.” or “I understand why you feel this way.”
• Don’t say: “Really? But why?” or “It’ll pass. Cheer up.”

b) Don’t pass judgement.
• Do say: “That sucks. I feel you.”
• Don’t say: “You shouldn’t see it that way.” or “You should have done that instead.”

c) Keep the attention on them.
• Do say: “I’m sorry you’re going through that. I can’t imagine what it must feel like but I’m here for you.”
• Don’t shift the conversation to your own experience right away. You can do that after you’ve acknowledged their situation and feelings.

Be patient as the other person’s emotions fluctuate. Try not to ride the ups and downs with them, but be a stable presence that they can return to.

This funny scene from Modern Family sums it up well:


4. Set healthy limits on behalf of that person.

Venting can be helpful, but if they start to veer towards self-defeating thoughts or if it’s been going on for a while, you could gently suggest some distractions. This helps them to take a step back and pause. For example, get food for the person (we often forget to eat when we’re upset, which sometimes worsens our mood).

5. Take care of yourself too.

Listening to and being there for someone can be difficult emotionally. Set healthy boundaries between their emotions and yours. For example, take a short break after 1 hour of conversation. This allows you to recharge and put things into perspective. Taking care of yourself gives you the capacity to be fully present with them.

6. Remind them about the big picture.

At some point (especially after you’ve given them space to vent), it’s helpful to gently offer some perspective about the situation. Remind them of what they value most in life or how all our choices teach us valuable lessons.

7. Check in over time.

It’s important to give them space, but asking them how they are every so often reminds them that you haven’t forgotten about them. Oftentimes, emotions can’t be dealt with in a day.

What makes you feel comforted? Let us know at hello@mindful-company.com.

- Your friends at The Mindful Company