"I got some bad news." It's one of those things you hate hearing from a friend. Not just because you're empathetic and wish your loved ones never had to go through a rough day at work, or the aftermath of a screaming fight with their partner, or periods of just feeling down in the dumps. Sometimes, it's hard to hear that a friend is feeling low because while you want to support and comfort them... you're not too sure what to say.
Being at a loss for words during a friend's tough times can make you feel like a jerk, but it's incredibly common. So we asked experts for some help figuring out how to make an approach.
First, ask yourself how this person would want to receive comfort, suggests Nina Tirado, a therapist at NYC Counselling. That might be different from how you prefer to give comfort, she notes. For example, if you're a touchy-feely person your instinct may be to go for the hug. That wouldn't help someone who's a little more reserved. Also smart: Consider your relationship to the person. It wouldn't always necessarily be appropriate to embrace a coworker, either.
When you're trying to figure out what to say, "It's important to lead with kindness, humanity, and tenderness," Tirado says. Some phrases Tirado offers include, "I'm with you"; "I'm right here"; "I can't imagine how hard this feels for you"; and "We'll sit through these waves together".
Sense a theme? Beyond words, what really matters is your presence. "One of the kindest ways to aid someone when they are sad is to be with them," Tirado explains. "Your presence goes a long way. It prevents someone from being alone when they are in a dark place and offers them an outlet to release their emotions."
If you've ever had the experience of feeling lonely during a dark time, you likely agree with that statement. "The last time my depression was really bad, my best friend asked me to hang out," one Reddit user writes. "We ended up spending the evening on a paddle boat, just he and I, drinking beer and paddling around this little lake, me intermittently crying and generally feeling like a real horse's ass. But he was there. He knew I was struggling, and although he couldn't really empathise, he knew I needed to simply not be alone."
And while what you say matters less than the act of being there to say it, it's a good idea to stay away from negative phrases along the lines of, "I know exactly how you feel" or "You're being dramatic", Tirado says. These statements tend to feel dismissive and may make your friend feel worse than they already do.
Taking on a friend's emotional baggage can have a toll on your own personal mental health too. So make sure to keep tabs on where your own headspace is at. If you need to, take a break from offering support to find your own. You can't be there for a friend when you're struggling, after all.