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What to Do When Your Friend Tells You That They’re Sad

What to Do When Your Friend Tells You That They’re Sad

Knowing what to say when a friend shares sad news with you is one of the most challenging things in a friendship. You may not know what to do no matter how close you are with this friend.

When someone you care about is hurting, it’s natural to want them to feel better. If you’ve never experienced what they’re going through, you may feel unsure about the best way to help them. Even when you do understand their situation, you may realize that the challenge your friend faces is really difficult to overcome.

If they’ve just lost a loved one, or someone close to them has fallen ill, it can be hard to find the words that offer them comfort. Difficulties at work or the end of a relationship can also leave you wondering how to cheer up your heartbroken friend. There isn’t one way to address a person in a state of grief or frustration, but you can develop some best practices for handling bad news.

Your Good Intentions Can Make Your Friend Feel Worse

When we’re oblivious about the best way to handle a situation, we respond to our sad friends in an inappropriate way. Maybe we say the wrong thing, or we’re unintentionally insensitive to their feelings. Either way, an inappropriate response can leave your friend feeling sadder than before you talked.

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Most of us don’t go out of our way to hurt others. Even the best intentions can go awry. When we don’t know what to say, we’ll grasp at straws and try whatever comes to mind in order to soothe their discomfort. We’ve all done this, and most of us have had someone with good intentions make us feel worse. We want to help our friends feel better so we can’t help but do one or some of these things:

Changing the subject doesn’t help.

When conversation shifts toward challenges, you might think that changing the subject will help. In your mind, it’s a chance for your friend to move their attention away from their negative situation to something they enjoy. Changing the subject to something trivial and unrelated may feel good to you, but it won’t help them. They couldn’t care less about which movies are in theaters now, or how much you like the new restaurant in town.

This method is problematic because your friend needs and wants to be heard. They shared their troubles with you because giving voice to their pain can lessen it. If you change the subject, you deprive them of the chance to do this. They end up feeling invalidated and rejected.

Giving positive reassurance makes them more negative.

When your friend comes to you with troubles, it can be tempting to say things like, “Everything will be okay,” or “You’re good enough.” You might believe what you’re saying, and it’s coming from a good place, but sometimes that’s not what people need.

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Your friend may just need to vent. They need to give their troubles some air time so that they can move on. Your attempts to be reassuring can come off as dismissive. Let them speak. Acknowledging that something is bad can actually motivate them to look for rational ways to cope.

Trying to “fix” the problem only worsens it.

When you care about someone, it’s difficult to watch them suffer. You might want to offer suggestions to help your friend get to the root of the problem.

“If I were you, I’d…” and, “It’s better to…” are only going to fix so much. Just like changing the subject and offering positive reassurance, this strategy robs your friend of the validation and understanding that they need. It seems like the more you care for them, the worse this habit becomes.

Offering unsolicited input about how you would do things won’t make them feel better, and being a fixer can be exhausting for you.[1] When your friend asks for advice, they’re inviting you to offer input. Otherwise, avoid telling them what they should do.

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Listen to Understand and Validate Your Friend’s Feelings

Above all, your friend wants to be heard. Give them the gift of listening patiently and authentically. Withhold your judgements, forget about planning what you want to say next, and hold space for them. But don’t just silently listening. What you should do is to practice active listening which involves the following steps:

1. Give them your reassurance with physical contact.

Sitting silently won’t make your friend feel heard or validated. Stay engaged in what they’re saying, and offer body language that indicates that you hear them. Nodding your head and making eye contact will help them feel safe and will encourage them to let it out.

2. Speak without fixing.

You don’t have to nod mutely, but be sure that your contributions to the conversation keep the focus on them. When you say things like, “I hear you,” or “I know I can’t feel exactly how you feel, but I understand it’s hard for you,” you offer them the validation that they crave.

If you want to find out more about validating another person’s feelings, read my other article Why Your Lover Doesn’t Want Your Advice, but Your Validation

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3. Let them know you have tried to understand.

If you simply repeat what they just told you without synthesizing the information, you’re parroting the problem back to them. Demonstrate that you have been thinking about what they’ve been saying by putting the situation into your own words. For example, “It doesn’t seem reasonable that you have to take on extra duties when you already have so much to do,” sounds a lot more reassuring than, “You work too much.”

To learn more about active listening, tale a look at The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening

All They Need Is a Listening Ear, Nothing Else

Knowing what to say and how to say it can be challenging. But if your friend is coming to you with their problems, it means that they trust you. Consider their confidence in you a gift, and do your best to hold space for them as they work through whatever is happening in their lives.

Above all, be an active listener and work to validate their feelings. Resist the urge to fix things, change the subject, or smother them with platitudes. A kind listening ear may be all that your friend needs to get through a difficult time. Truly hear them, and you’ll be amazed at the results. When life throws you a curve-ball, they’ll do the same for you.

Featured photo credit: Corinne Kutz on Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: You can’t fix everything

More by this author

Anna Chui

Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on February 28, 2019

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

The Desire to Be Liked Will End You up Feeling More Rejected

Admit it, you feel good when other people think you’re nice. Maybe you were complimented by a stranger saying that you had a nice outfit. You felt good about yourself and you were happy for the rest of the day.

    We all like to feel liked, whether by a stranger or a loved one. It makes you feel valued and that feeling can be addictive. But when the high wears off and you no longer have validation that someone thinks you’re a good, sweet person, you may feel insecure and lacking. While wanting others to like you isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can be like a disease when you feel that you constantly need to be liked by others.

    Humans are wired to want to be liked.

    It’s human nature to seek approval from others. In ancient times, we needed acceptance to survive. Humans are social animals and we need to bond with others and form a community to survive. If we are not liked by others, we will be left out.

    Babies are born to be cute and be liked by adults.

      The large rounded head, big forehead, large eyes, chubby cheeks, and a rounded body. Babies can’t survive without an adult taking care of them. It’s vital for adults to find babies lovely to pay attention to them and divert energy towards them.[1]

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      Recognitions have always been given by others.

        From the time you were a child, whether at school or at home, you have been receiving recognition from external parties. For instance, you received grades from teachers, and if you wanted something, you needed approval from your parents. We’ve learned to get what we want by catering to other people’s expectations. Maybe you wanted to get a higher grade in art so you’d be more attentive in art classes than others to impress your teacher. Your teacher would have a generally good impression on you and would likely to give you a higher grade.

        When you grow up, it’s no different. Perhaps you are desperate to get your work done so you do things that your manager would approve. Or maybe you try to impress your date by doing things they like but you don’t really like.

        Facebook and Instagram have only made things worse. People posting their photos and sharing about their life on Instagram just to feels so good to get more likes and attention.

        Being liked becomes essential to reaching desires.

          We start to get hyper focused on how others see us, and it’s easy to imagine having the spotlight on you at all time. People see you and they take an interest in you. This feels good. In turn, you start doing more things that bring you more attention. It’s all positive until you do something they don’t like and you receive criticism. When this happens, you spiral because you’ve lost the feeling of acceptance.

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          But the reality is this is all just perception. Humans, as a species, are selfish. We are all just looking at ourselves; we only perceive others are giving us their focus. Even for those who please others are actually focusing on making themselves feel good. It’s like an optical illusion for your ego.

            The desire to be liked is an endless chase.

              Aiming to please others in order to feel better will exhaust you because you can never catch up with others’ expectation.

              The ideal image will always change.

              It used to be ideal to have a fair weight, a little bit fat was totally acceptable. Then it’s ideal to be very slim. Recently we’ve seen “dad-bods” getting some positive attention. But this is already quickly changing. In fact, a recent article from Men’s Health asked 100 women if they would date a guy who had a dad-bod, about 50% of women claimed to not care either way, only 15% exclusively date men with a “dad bod”.[2]

              People’s expectations on you can be wrong.

              Most people put their expectations on others based on what’s right in the social norms, yet the social norms are created by humans in which 80% of them are just ordinary people according to the 80/20 rules.[3]

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              Think about it, every day, from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you filter what you believe to be truth. If someone compliments you, you take it and add it to an idea of what the best version of yourself is. When someone criticizes you, even in a destructive way, you might accept it altogether, or add it to a list of things you’re insecure about. When you absorb the wrong opinion from others, you will either sabotage your self-esteem or overestimate yourself by accepting all the good compliments and stop growing; or accepting all the destructive criticisms and sabotage your own self-esteem and happiness.

              Others’ desires are not the same as yours.

                If you live your life as one long effort of trying to please other people, you will never be happy. You’re always going to rely on others to make you feel worth living. This leads to total confusion when it comes to your personal goals; when there’s no external recognition, you don’t know what to live for.

                The only person to please is yourself.

                  Think of others’ approval as fuel and think of yourself as a car. When that fuel runs out, you can’t function. This is not a healthy mindset.

                  In reality, we’re human and we can create our own fuel. You can feel good based on how much you like yourself. When you do things to make you like yourself more, you can start to see a big change in your opinion. For example, if being complimented by others made you feel good and accepted, look in the mirror and compliment yourself. Say what you wish others would say about you.

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                  Internal approval takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. You have to re-train your own mind. Think of the dog who knows there is food when the bell rings, the reflex is hard wired into the dog.[4] We need our own triggers to reinforce the habit of internal approval too. Recognize yourself every day instead of waiting for people to do it for you, check out in this article the steps to take to recognize your own achievements and gain empowerment: Don’t Wait for People to Praise You. Do It Yourself Every Single Day

                  Notice that when you start to focus on yourself and what to do to make yourself happy, others may criticize you. Since you’ve stopped trying to please others to meet their expectations, they may judge you for what you do. Be critical about what they say about you. They aren’t always right but so are you. Everyone has blind spots. Let go of biased and subjective comments but be humble and open to useful advice that will improve you.

                  Remember that you are worth it, every day. It will take time to stop relying on others to make you feel important and worth something, but the sooner you start trying, the happier and healthier you will be.

                  Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

                  Reference

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