4 Ways to Comfort Someone
I mentioned in my last blog post that I have been grieving my father and my mother’s death. Both of them passed away in the last eighteen months. The grief has been a traumatic event for me. It has caused me to reevaluate what is helpful comforting behavior and what is not helpful.
These behaviors apply whenever someone is experiencing strong emotions, but especially emotions over a loss. The loss is not only death, but also the loss of a relationship, the loss of trust from an affair or betrayal, loss of innocence, etc.
The emotions coming from a big event can overtake our lives for a time.
I mentioned that I was newly taken by one of Jesus’ names – Immanuel. God with us. Jesus actually came to be with us in both our joy and our sorrow.
My last post was about four harmful behaviors. In this post I’d like to talk about four helpful behaviors.
Last week, I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen since my dad passed away. He asked me how I’ve been and I explained that I’ve been struggling with grief. He replied that he didn’t know that and that he was sorry. I told him about my struggle and he just listened. He didn’t say much, but he nodded and let me continue. His reaction was perfect.
People that are struggling want to be heard. We can accomplish more by listening attentively than with anything else.
I’ve mentored lots of couples that are struggling with raw emotions from affairs, betrayals and broken commitments. I’ve found that listening to them and encouraging them to speak is the best reaction. This is one of the best ways to be with someone.
Part of listening is to validate feelings. Whether those feelings are negative or positive feelings.
One of the best ways to process emotions is to recognize that the emotions are present. Acknowledge that the feelings are there and process them without judgement.
“You sound really hurt.”
“Is that both frustration with your spouse and a desire for connection that I hear?”
“You sound very disappointed.”
“That sounds like you’re feeling very sad that…”
Notice the tentative nature. I don’t want to tell someone else what they are feeling or should be feeling.
Validating feelings helps the person to feel understood and helps to create connection.
Not Rushing to Advice
It’s really tempting to rush in with advice in order to fix someone’s unhappiness. I’ve had to learn that advice is a tricky thing. For the most part, it’s not helpful unless the person feels understood, validated and is asking for it.
As I was processing the grief over the loss of my parents I asked people, “What can I do to process this?”
I usually didn’t ask this until someone listened and validated my feelings.
Once someone knows they have a problem and are looking for solutions, then advice can be very helpful. The person is looking for ways to heal.
Advice is best left to the end. If you are in doubt, just listen.
Sharing a Common Experience
It can be helpful to hear how others have experienced similar situations.
I had lunch with a good friend and told him about how was having trouble concentrating. He listened for a while and then shared that he had similar symptoms when his father passed away.
What I found the most helpful in that dialog wasn’t the steps he took to process it, but rather that he had a similar experience. In other words, I wasn’t crazy. It was validating.
When my wife and I have mentored couples, they appreciate when we share some of our own struggles. It helps them to know that we have struggled as well.
Tips for Marriage Mentors
- Be Empathic – Empathy means being able to feel with others. Feel with them.
- Recognize Emotions – Validate their emotions by acknowledging them.
- Be transparent – Let them know that you’ve experienced some of the same things. At least say, “I don’t know how to respond to that, but thank you for telling me.”