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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 Content Strategist of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

Can People Change When Changing Is So Difficult?

Can People Change When Changing Is So Difficult?

Hope is not a strategy when it comes to change. Commitment is what is needed to make real change happen. Can people change? Absolutely, but exchanging your excuses for commitment is necessary to get started.

Human nature leans toward habits, which can become ingrained over the years, but that doesn’t mean habits can be undone.

The good news is that your personality and behaviors can be changed, but it is up to you. Below are some tips to help you get started with change.

1. Figure out What You Need to Change

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware of something you would like to change. That’s great! The first step toward change is acknowledging that you have something you need to change.

Look at the repeated problems in your life, the issues that seem to come up time and time again. Do you keep gravitating toward the wrong relationships, but you blame the people you are choosing, rather than looking at your problem in the selection process?

Do you jump from one job to another, yet blame co-workers and bosses, rather than look at what you may be doing to cause problems and dissatisfaction on the job?

We are creatures of habit, so look at the negative patterns in your life. Then, look inside to see what’s causing these repeated life problems to occur. If you can’t figure it out on your own, consider going to a counselor for better understanding. Once you recognize the area that requires change, you can move to the next step.

2. Believe That Change Is Indeed Possible

There are people out there who believe that personality is unchangeable. When confronted with their problem, such as constant negativity, they lash back with “that’s just who I am.” It may be who you are, but does it need to be?

Change in personality and behaviors is possible. Nobody stays the same from one year to the next, let alone across a decade, so why not move change in the direction that is best for you? Be proactive about the change you want in your life, including the belief that change can occur.

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Look for success stories and people who have changed and done what you so deeply desire to do. Seeing that others have been where you have are and have accomplished the change you desire will help you in your process to accomplish that change.

3. List the Benefits of This Change

In order for people to change, they need to buy into the premise that the change is necessary for their betterment. For example, maybe your goal is to be more productive at work. There are many benefits that could come from this, including:

  • Getting more done in a shorter amount of time.
  • Having more time for your family.
  • Getting a promotion
  • Being liked and appreciated by your boss.
  • Being part of the success of the company.

One of the best ways to help yourself stick to the commitment of change is to make a list of the benefits that the change will bring in your life. Make one list of the benefits for your life and another for your loved ones. Recognizing the full spectrum of benefits, including how your change will affect those closest to you, will help you stick with the process of change.

When you have moments of weakness, or fail on a particular day or time, then getting back on track becomes easier when you review your list on a regular basis. Posting your “benefits of change” list somewhere where you see it often, such as a bathroom mirror, will help you be reminded of why you are doing what you are doing.

4. Make a Real Commitment to Change

Make a commitment to the time frame needed for the change to happen. If you want to lose 50 lbs., then set out a realistic plan of a few pounds per week and a timeline that reflects those goals.

It will take you a lot longer than a month, but setting realistic goals will help you stick to your commitment. Change happens one day at a time. It is not immediate, but over the course of time because of your dedication and commitment to the process.

It also helps if you make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.[1]

People can change using SMART goals

    An example of this would be a person who wants to become an active runner so they can tackle a half marathon. The first step would be to research what other people have done for training plans to achieve this goal.

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    Runners World lays out specifics for a beginner to train for a half marathon: “Target the Long Run: Every other week, increase your long run by 1.5 miles until you’re run/walking 13 to 14 miles. On alternate weeks, keep your long run to no longer than three miles. Your longest long run should fall two weeks before your half-marathon. Plan to take about 15 weeks to prepare for the big day.”[2]

    These kinds of specificities will help you create a personalized plan that is achievable and time-bound.

    You can learn more about writing SMART goals here.

    5. Create a Plan of Attack

    You need a set of steps outlined to succeed. This is why 12-step programs are so successful. You can’t simply walk into a meeting and be cured and changed. You need to mentally process the change in order for the change to be lasting and effective.

    Create a plan for your change. Be realistic and investigate what other people have done to change.

    For example, if you are dealing with anxiety and want to change that, then seek out therapy methods to address your problem. Stick with the therapy plan until your change process is complete. Simply hoping the anxiety will someday go away is not a plan.

    6. Commit to Action

    It is wonderful to set a goal for change and to write it down, but if you don’t act, then your mental commitment means nothing. There is no actual commitment unless action follows. To best kick start our change, the key is to act now[3].

    For example, if you committed to lose 50lbs, then now is the time to go join a gym, hire a trainer, and walk into a weight loss clinic to get support. We can make up our mind to be determined to change, but if action does not follow soon thereafter, then you will likely fail.

    If you wait until later that week, you will get caught up in doing your daily routine, things for works, taking care of others, or whatever it may be; there will be distractions that will derail you from taking action later. There is no better time to take action than when you make the decision to change.

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    For example, if you decide you want to finally write that book that is in your mind, but you don’t have a working laptop, then go and get a laptop today. Then, set aside an hour each day after work (and on your calendar) so that you can write. Instead of going out with friends after work, you are committing to achieve this goal, and you have time set aside to make that goal happen.

    7. Find a Support System

    When people want to change, finding a support system is key. A great way to find support is through group therapy or support groups. If you have a substance abuse issue, for example, you can find groups that specialize is supporting you through recovery and change.

    If you prefer to find support in the comfort of your own home, then you can look for online support forums and Facebook groups that deal with whatever change you are looking to pursue.

    Your ability to be successful in change is dependent on your ability to dive in; support systems help you with the initial dive and staying committed thereafter. and will help you stay committed to the process. Don’t underestimate the power you have by partnering with others who are seeking the same change.

    8. Get Uncomfortable

    Change should be uncomfortable. You are entering new territory and stepping out of your comfort zone. Your mind and past habits will be resistant to the change, as it is uncomfortable and difficult.

    If you give up because of the discomfort, then you are destined to fail in your pursuit of change. Embrace the discomfort associated with change and recognize that it puts you one step closer to accomplishing your goals.

    9. Stick to the Plan

    When people decide to change, sticking to it is difficult. If you get derailed from your plan, don’t berate yourself. Instead, allow yourself some margin of error and then get back on track.

    You can’t expect to go on a diet without splurging sometimes. The key is “sometimes.” The sooner you get back on track, the more successful you will be in accomplishing your change goals.

    Other researchers on the topic of change believe this process is about dedication and commitment to the change desired in our day to day lives, as Douglas LaBier from the Huffington Post so aptly stated:[4]

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    “Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.”

    Here are some tips on sticking to a plan:

    Engage in Self-Reflection

    Reflect on things that have derailed you in the past and problem solve them before they happen.

    Jot down those things that tend to get you off track. Now, list ways to combat the derailments before they happen. For example, if you are wanting to lose weight but you work late hours, then commit to morning workouts.

    If you know that in the past you would continually hit the snooze button and subsequently miss the workouts, then hire a trainer for early morning workouts. You are less likely to miss your workout if you have real money attached to it and someone counting on you to show up. You could also schedule morning workouts with a friend, so you know there is someone showing up and you don’t want to let them down.

    Brainstorm solutions for your past derailments so that this time around you are ready to stick to the plan and the commitment you have made to change.

    Define Your Commitment

    Commitment is a daily mental and physical plight when it comes to change. If your commitment is to lose weight, then be specific about how you are going to achieve your change. For example, you decide you are going to stick to 1,800 calories a day and a 1-hour workout every day.

    Then, write those goals down and chart your daily progress. Hold yourself accountable.

    Final Thoughts

    Can people change? Hopefully, by now, you believe that they can. If you have a sense of commitment and persistence, change is possible with any life experience.

    Start small, create specific goals, and don’t wait to get started. You’ll be amazed how far change will take you.

    More on How to Make Changes in Your Life

    Featured photo credit: Jurica Koletić via unsplash.com

    Reference

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