7 Rules for Helping a Hurting Friend

When someone you love experiences tragedy, it’s easy to feel helpless. While you can’t take away their pain, there are still so many ways to show that you love them. Here are 7 rules for helping a hurting friend:

1. Validate their experience

It feels so basic to acknowledge that someone is in pain, but you’d be surprised how often it can go overlooked. And it doesn’t take much to validate their experience. Saying something as simple as, “What you’re going through is impossibly hard, and I’m so sorry you have to,” may not feel like a lot, but it can make all the difference when someone is hurting.

2. Tell them they’re doing a good job

Often times, traumatic experiences make that feeling of “always dropping the ball” feel even more intense. For example, as a caregiver, when my husband is in the hospital, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. If I’m at the hospital, I’m going to get behind on my work. If I’m at work, I feel like a terrible wife. If I’m home finally resting after a long day, I feel like I’m letting everyone down.

Gently letting them know that you see everything that they’re carrying can make a burden feel just a little bit lighter.

3. Don’t ask. Just do.

“What do you need?” is quite possibly the most difficult question to answer when you’re hurting. The honest answer is: “EVERYTHING. Food. Support. Clean dishes. A break.” But it can be SO hard to communicate those needs to even the best-intentioned people for fear of seeming needy.

So, support them without asking. Send the gift card to help with expenses. Do that extra task for a coworker so they can leave a little earlier. Mow their lawn.

Love is doing.

4. When in doubt, send food

Maybe you read that last section and thought, “But I don’t KNOW what to do or where to start!”

Here’s a hint: everyone eats. And there are so many versatile food gift card options to give someone. Helping to cover their basic necessities frees them up to better respond to their crisis.

5. Make it easy for them

Don’t make them jump through hoops to be loved. Don’t make them come to you or drive across town for a “gift.” Their circumstances are making life hard enough without adding a list of chores to the mix.

6. Know your place

There are levels of friendship, and if you are only an acquaintance, don’t default to picking up their kids from school. When in doubt, refer to rule #4. 

7. Silence is ok

To clarify, radio silence is not ok. You should absolutely reach out and show up. But don’t try to fill the void with trite expressions. Just be. Hold space. Listen. Hold their hand.

We always want to fix or do, but when things are REALLY hard, they just need a friend to sit in the puddle with them for a while. 

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