In the newsletter last week, we discussed how to take care of yourself when you’re going through a hard time. This week, we talk about how to support someone else who’s struggling with something difficult. It can be difficult to figure out how to help someone with depression, anxiety, or even every day stressors and problems. Perhaps even more than managing our own stuff, we often aren’t very good at handling the suffering of someone we care about, particularly if it’s a child or a partner.

When we see our loved ones in a hard place, often our first instinct is to try to fix it, to make it better. We jump to offer solutions, advice. Alternatively, we may discount what they are going through. We may think it’s not that big of a deal, and so we try to talk them out of feeling what they feel. This is not only fruitless (since when have our feelings ever been reasoned away?), but will also make your loved one feel unheard, and even disrespected. What could have been a shared moment of connection, a space for getting through something tough together, instead becomes an impetus for discord.

But there’s a better way to be there for someone you love. Check out our suggestions below.


Check Your Own Stuff

When confronted with someone who is dealing with something difficult, it’s natural to either want to turn away, or to feel a responsibility to ease their feelings. The truth is that it’s often uncomfortable and even painful to watch someone experience hurt or disappointment or sadness. In response to our own discomfort, we may minimize the issue, or attempt to ‘lighten the mood,’ by making a joke or looking for the humor in the situation. We may even find ourselves feeling helpless in the face of their pain, and, as a result, become irritated or angry with them.

Of course, none of these responses are helpful to the person we care about. To avoid reacting unsupportively, we need to first take a moment internally to acknowledge and accept our own discomfort. We need to accept that, at least for a few moments, we’re both going to feel crappy together, and that’s okay, and even necessary. While it is not our responsibility to fix their feelings, we can accomplish a lot simply by listening.


Be Emotionally Available

When we want to provide genuine support and empathy with a loved one, we have to start by willing to be emotionally present with them. We have to be willing to experience at least some of what they feel without shrinking away. To do this, we need to avoid saying things like, “it’s not that bad,” or “don’t worry about it,” or, the classic (awful) phrase, “at least…” Instead, you can say things like “I’m sorry this is happening,” “that must be hard,” “or even “that really sucks.” Being present with someone going through a hard time means staying in the difficult place with them, as opposed to trying to pull them into our own emotional space. This is not a service we freely give to strangers (unless you’re a therapist), because if you’re doing it right, you won’t remain untouched by this person’s hard feelings: at least a bit will rub off on you.


Ask if They Want Advice or Solutions

Do not assume that if someone is sharing a problem with you, they want advice to fix it. If, after some time of being present with that person, you start to wonder if they’re looking for your input, ask. Even if the solution seems obvious to you, it’s important to allow your loved one to go at their own pace in working through the problem. And frankly, they may already have an answer in mind, and are just dealing with the emotional muck that surrounds the circumstance.


Being able to sit with someone’s pain, without turning away, without judgment, with being fully present, is one of the most powerful gifts we can provide to someone we care about. While it can be hard to watch someone we love hurt, it can also be an opportunity to bring us closer. Be willing to make the effort to get down in the dark, scary place with them, and hopefully you can come back up together.