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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

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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 January 6, 2019

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1]University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2]Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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