Everyone is likely to encounter somebody who has suffered a loss or hurt of some kind at some point. You probably want to help, especially if the person is a friend, but you might feel unsure about how to do so. It's easier to offer sympathy when you know the person's needs and the cause of the hurt, but even if you don't, you can offer words and actions that can help give some comfort.
Listen More Than Talk
Often, the best way to show sympathy is by listening attentively. Those who are suffering are more likely to come to a deeper understanding of their situation when they have the opportunity to talk about it. Be a good listener and resist the impulse to interrupt, even to speak words of comfort. Reflect back what they said to them. Show that you understand how serious the situation is, even if it's not a problem that would have upset you, advises youth development educator, Joyce Walker, on the University of Minnesota Extension website.
Pitch in With the Chores
Practical help is a good way to demonstrate that you care. Go beyond the expression of sympathetic words by offering concrete help, such as a lift to an appointment. Cook a meal and deliver it, pick up take-out food or offer to take your friend out for dinner. Whether your friend is immobilized by depression or a physical ailment, if he needs help with household chores, rolling up your sleeves and pitching in is a great way to make a real difference in his daily life.
Avoid Inappropriate Comments
Sometimes what you don't say can be more important than what you do say. Some comments are best avoided, according to the Helpguide.org article, "Supporting a Grieving Person." For example, don't say, "I know how you feel." Even if you experienced a similar situation, it's unlikely you experienced the event in exactly the same way. Avoid comments that might be interpreted as criticism. For example, "You're always choosing the wrong guys," won't help your friend feel better about herself. Don't make statements that suggest you know the future, such as, "You'll feel better by next week." If you're at a loss for words, be honest and confess that you don't know what to say.
Provide Ongoing Support
Stay in touch beyond the time of the immediate crisis. Continue sending emails or making regular phone calls, suggests Elizabeth Bernstein in her "Wall Street Journal" article, "When a Friend Grieves, How to Get Sympathy Right." Many people withdraw their support shortly after the immediate crisis, so your ongoing expression of concern will stand out from the rest and will be appreciated. Help with running errands or providing meals, for example, might still be necessary for a while. Don't withdraw your support until you're sure it's no longer needed.
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