How to Comfort Someone: Understanding Other People’s Feelings

Learning how to comfort someone isn't always instinctive. While we're familiar with common phrases, they might not always be helpful. Many times, we're left feeling uncertain about how to offer support. In this article, we'll explore the dos and don'ts because comforting someone is a skill that can be developed.

Key takeaways:

How to comfort someone you love

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Everybody has different needs, particularly during challenging and confusing times. Consider their unique personality and the situation so you can offer the support they need.

Allowing them to open up to you in a safe environment free from criticism or pressure to "get better" requires patience.

Helpful things to say

In difficult times, a few carefully chosen and compassionate words can provide comfort and understanding:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “It’s okay not to be okay—this is hard."
  • “Do you want to talk about it? We don’t have to."
  • “How you’re feeling makes sense.”
  • “Do you want a distraction? How about…”
  • “It’s okay to ask for help. What do you need most?"
  • “Is there anything in particular I can do for you right now? What if I..."
  • “Do you want company, or would you prefer some space?”
  • “You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel, and for however long you need.”

If it feels right, you might mention how this tough time could show them how strong they are. But it's crucial to be careful with what you say now; it might not be the best time to focus on the positives.

The aim is to be there for them and offer hope without making light of their feelings or the seriousness of the situation. If you're not sure what to say, just being there, doing thoughtful things, and checking in can make a big difference.

Helpful things to do to comfort someone

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Here are some ways to express your thoughtfulness and care:

  • Listen actively, without interrupting.
  • Help with daily tasks to lighten their load.
  • Keep them company without pressuring them to talk.
  • Suggest some activities to do together if they need a distraction.
  • Create a comforting environment when you meet. For example, go to their home and make them a cup of tea or a warm meal.
  • If they’re open to it, offer physical comfort like long hugs and sit closely. Human contact, especially for someone feeling lonely, can help increase serotonin and dopamine — the feel-good chemicals.

Understanding other people's feelings

To truly understand someone, you’ll want to listen to not just what they’re saying but also how they’re saying it. What’s their body language, tone, or exact wording telling you? Avoid making assumptions and ask open-ended questions to get a better understanding.

Ways to show that you care

If it’s not the time for words, try small acts of kindness. Giving someone their favorite cup of coffee or leaving a small note to let them know you are thinking of them are examples of small gestures that show someone you care.

Consider ideas for soothing activities they might like, such as sharing a favorite movie, getting a massage, or attempting a more artistic endeavor like painting.

If they refuse to participate, it might be best to limit your kindness to small gestures and follow up without putting any pressure on them.

What not to do or say when comforting someone

There are certain phrases we all know and say, but they’re not always helpful. Even with the best of intentions, we might poke a wound that’s best left alone. Therefore, try to follow these tips when comforting someone:

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  • Be careful with words. Some common things we say might not help. Even with good intentions, we might make things worse.
  • Avoid pressure. For instance, telling someone who's feeling down to "cheer up" might make them feel misunderstood or alone. It's okay to feel low sometimes; it's part of life.
  • Skip cliches. Things like "everything happens for a reason" might make them feel like you're not acknowledging their feelings. Avoid saying, "It could be worse" or downplaying what they're going through.
  • Respect their emotions. Don’t tell them not to cry or to stop feeling a certain way. Let them express themselves in their own time.
  • Respect their pace. Don’t push them to talk or share everything if they're not ready. Sometimes, it’s best to let them open up when they feel comfortable.
  • It's about them, not you. Sharing your own similar experience might not always help. Their situation is unique, and comparing timelines might make them feel pressured.
  • Hold back on advice. Even if you think you know what’s best, they might not be ready to hear it. Empower them to make their own choices instead of giving advice they didn’t ask for.

How to comfort someone who doesn’t want to be comforted

Tell someone you are available anytime they need you, but that you will respect their personal space if they choose to be alone. Make sure they understand that you aren't pressuring them to answer or even discuss challenging circumstances when you check-in. You can always offer a healthy distraction if that’s what they want instead.

In the end, it’s not always up to you to provide comfort to someone going through a hard time. Allow them to come to you when they are ready by being patient and letting them know you are available.

Offering a safe, judgment-free space, along with a listening ear and thoughtful acts of kindness, can make all the difference to someone going through a tough time.

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