How to support a person in difficult times: advice from psychologists

How to support a person in difficult times: advice from psychologists

We talk to experts about how to behave with a person who is in a difficult situation. What to say and what not to say.

  • How to properly support someone
  • How to support someone when they lose a loved one
  • How to support someone from a distance
  • Psychologist’s advice for crisis situations

The material was commented on:

● Ekaterina Kozeikina, psychologist, systemic family therapist;

● Daria Yausheva, clinical psychologist, cognitive behavioral and schema therapist.

How to properly support someone

Still from the film “I — Sam

Still from the movie “I Am Sam”

Having learned that a friend is in a difficult situation, people often decide that everyone is trying to help him, that he is surrounded by support and care. But, unfortunately, this does not always happen and many at this moment, on the contrary, move away. This is quite natural, since people may be confused; not everyone knows how to properly provide support or what to say.

In addition, many find it difficult to cope with their own emotions, which inevitably arise in response to someone else’s misfortune, explains psychologist Ekaterina Kozeikina: “Supporting another person requires inner stability and courage. While he is going through all the stages of grief, he can behave in different ways: complain, cry, get angry. And this is also normal, but not everyone can withstand this.”

What can you say

“I’m near”

Even by saying this one phrase, you are already providing a person with great support. This will make him feel less lonely and isolated. Ekaterina Kozeikina explains: “Often people experiencing difficult situations withdraw so as not to burden others with their grief. However, loneliness can increase anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms. You don’t even have to say anything—it’s enough to be there, listen, or just be silent together. Your presence will make a person feel loved, valued and accepted in any condition.”

“I understand that it’s hard for you now…”, “Your feelings are absolutely normal”

In psychology, there is a term “validation”, which means confirming the feelings of another person. Validation involves respecting another person’s experiences and recognizing that these feelings are completely normal. Validation helps people feel heard and understood and gives them a sense of emotional security, experts emphasize.

Validating phrases will demonstrate care and signal to the other person that he has the right to experience any feelings around you. Moreover, if he feels that his difficult experiences are accepted and not devalued, he will more likely find the strength to move on.

“How can I help you?”

“You do the best you can”

Sometimes people feel guilty because they cannot cope with their emotions and act in the same way as in usual conditions. It is necessary to remind the person that in an acute stressful situation one should not demand too much from oneself. On the contrary, it is important to be especially careful, take care of yourself and give yourself time to experience all your feelings, advises Ekaterina Kozeikina. Friendly communication provides great support.

“Let’s meet?”

A person experiencing grief can become literally stuck in their thoughts and feelings. And of course, such a state is absolutely natural for the first stages of the grief process. Chatting or a simple walk will help a person get a little distracted.

“I’m always ready to listen to you”

Perhaps a person will want to speak out, share his experiences, and here it is extremely important to simply listen to him, to give space to any of his feelings. As Megan Devine said in her book Let’s Talk About Loss, “Telling the truth about your grief is the only way to move forward.”

What not to say

“Don’t worry!”

“There are people worse off than you”

Such a phrase is another way to devalue the difficult feelings that a person is experiencing, warns Ekaterina Kozeikina. There are indeed many tragedies and troubles happening in the world that many people have to face. But this does not negate the fact that it may be very difficult for a particular person with the experience that he has to live at the moment and which affects his life.

“Everything will be fine”, “You still have everything ahead” and other encouraging phrases

These are probably the most common phrases that automatically come to mind when we want to console someone. But even these words do not help a person at all, since we seem to be telling him: “Don’t be upset, it’s all nonsense.” By saying this to an upset person, we seem to forbid him to experience feelings and are trying hard to set him up for positivity. In addition, you should not take responsibility by promising someone bright prospects, psychologists advise.

“You must be strong!”

How to behave

1. “Communicate your readiness to help. If you feel ready to support another person, let him know that you are nearby and ready to listen to him and help him in various matters at any time.

2. Offer specific help. It is worth asking the person exactly how you can help him. For example, when moving, you may need help finding the right contacts or collecting some documents. If we are talking about the loss of a loved one, then you can offer to help with organizing the funeral.

A person experiencing grief may feel so empty and literally devoid of all strength that it is difficult for him to plan and organize anything. He may not even be able to clearly answer what exactly he needs help with. And here you can take the initiative and outline what exactly you can do: call someone, order something.

3. Help with routine tasks. During difficult periods in life, a person may not even be able to do the usual things like cooking and cleaning. Therefore, help with routine will be necessary and valuable. You can also offer to babysit the children for a while and walk the dog, for example.

How to support someone when they lose a loved one

Still from the film “Grace is No Longer With Us”

Everyone experiences loss in their own way: for some it is important to speak out, for others it is important to be in silence. But there are universal steps that should be taken by everyone who finds themselves close to a person who has lost a loved one. What needs to be done and said, and what is best avoided, says Ekaterina Kozeikina.

    1. Stay close. Very often even this is enough. Even if you don’t know what to say, just be there and honestly admit, “I don’t know what to say. But I’m with you.”
    2. Be prepared to listen, speak or remain silent. Everyone experiences loss in their own way: for some it is important to speak out, for others it is important to be in silence. The most important thing is to be there and give the person what he needs right now. You can actively listen with empathy: nod, agree, ask clarifying questions.
    3. Or hug in silence. Or talk about abstract topics if a person needs it. You can validate and reflect emotions: “I see how painful it is for you, I understand how hard this is for you.”
    4. Allow the person to cry. Under no circumstances should a grieving person be prevented from crying. Sometimes they say that with his tears a person does not let the deceased go. Such a statement is extremely harmful, as it can easily cause feelings of guilt or shame.
    5. In fact, tears are an absolutely normal reaction to grief, and it is also one of the most important mechanisms of mental self-regulation. However, it also happens that they may not be there, and this is also a normal response to stress. So there is no “right” or “wrong” way to experience grief.
    6. Avoid the subjunctive mood. “If he had gone to the doctor on time,” “if she had sought help, this would not have happened,” etc. There is no point in talking about alternative scenarios that definitely will not happen. During a difficult situation, when we feel completely lost, our brain desperately tries to find even a drop of…