You can sense their pain. The evidence may present itself in a flood of tears. Slumped shoulders. A hanging head. Sobs. Silence.
Maybe you know the source of their agony. Maybe not.
Whatever its manifestation or origin, you can--and should--provide comfort.
Comforting those who are hurting may or may not come naturally to you. Either way, here are a few do's and don't's to help you help your hurting friend.
- Do reach out. Call, text, email, send a note, visit. Be there. Keep it simple and keep it short. Your purpose is to let your friend know they are not alone, not to overwhelm them with lengthy calls or extended visits.
- Do allow them to tell their story. Open your heart. You are there to listen, not talk. We all have stories, but many of those who are hurting have an immediate need to tell theirs. Keep in mind that some will not be ready to talk, so don't force the issue. Sharing feelings with someone who genuinely cares is an important part of the healing process. Open the door by asking simple, open-ended, questions. "Would you like to talk about this?" "How do you feel about what happened?" "Would you like to tell me what happened?" Then give them your undivided attention as they speak. They may need to tell you their story over and over and over again. You may know the story by heart, but they have it in their heart. If they need to tell you, be a healer and listen.
- Do remember that this is not about you. You are not there to tell your stories, but rather to listen to theirs.
- Do not be judgmental. Your friend may be suffering the consequences of their own actions. On the other hand, they may be hurting through no fault of their own. Either way, it doesn't matter and you should not take their suffering state as an opening for you to chastise, berate, or correct either them or the person who hurt them. You wouldn't withhold emergency care to somebody injured because of their own negligence, would you? Emotional wounds are no different.
- Do not pretend you know exactly how your hurting friend feels. No two people process pain the same way. You may have gone through a similar situation, but that does not mean you fully understand what your friend is feeling. When somebody is hurting, they are focused on their own pain and telling them about yours will likely do more harm than good. Remember number 2 above; you are there to allow your friend to tell their story and express their feelings.
- Do not try to tell them how they should express their suffering. Just as no two people process pain the same way, it is also true that no two people express their suffering the same way. Some cry. Some remain stoic. Some want to talk about everything. Others would rather just sit in silence. Some want to be touched, while others would prefer no physical contact. Telling somebody they shouldn't cry or should talk will not help, and may actually increase their suffering. Avoid saying should or shouldn't. Be patient and allow your friend to express their pain naturally.
- Do provide practical support. Be aware of things that still need to be done, even in times of suffering. Provide meals. Make calls. Run errands. Feed pets. Do chores. Cut the lawn. Wash dishes. Clean the bathroom. Take out the trash. Drive your friend around. If you aren't sure what to do, then ask, "What can I do to help?"
- Do remind your friend that things will get better as time passes. Be patient. Be sensitive. Be positive. There is no timeline for healing, so don't try to create one. Instead, as you have opportunity, offer encouragement by reminding them that things will get better with the passing of time.
- Do encourage them to do basic things. As much as you can, but without being pushy, encourage your friend to tend to basic things. Eating. Bathing. Sleeping. These are all important and they provide opportunities to return some sense of normalcy to shattered lives. Other activities can follow when appropriate. Shopping. Walking. Exercising. Be creative, but be sensitive.
- Do not just show and go. Healing takes time. It is not a linear process. The immediate crisis may pass, but the periods of pain and mourning may come and go. Keep in touch. Follow-up. Let your friend know that you are there for the long haul; as long as it takes. Keep the door to your heart open and allow your friend to share their feelings and stories according to their natural flow.
Healing a hurting heart can, indeed, take time.
If you have a friend who is hurting, spend time with them. Listen. Offer hope. Provide help. Go with their flow and be there for them as the pain comes and goes.
Things will get better.
And, with a friend who cares.
Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net