What Not to Say to a Friend in Need

Five things to avoid when someone close is distressed

A heart-warming response to the extremely demanding time that I had gone through until
last July, when I left a very difficult marriage and moved on my own, was a
fellow dancer’s question, after confessing that he had worried about me:

“Is there anything that I could have done to help?” 

His question inspired me to write this article, the friendly instructions most of us never
had, in dealing with someone close to us who is stressed, distressed or
grieving. My answer was…but first, let me tell you this:

1.     Do not try to fix them
Unless your help is solicited, it will make things worse. By sharing her
pain with you, your friend is looking for your support, not your solution.

2.     Do not make assumptions about what your friend needs
Instead, inquire. Ask: “What do you need?” and “How can I be helpful to
you?” If your friend is confused or gives you a vague, non-doable answer, such
as “I need you to just be there for me”, you can help out by asking: “How can I
do that?” Find out what specific action is needed from you that is useful to
your friend in need.

3.     Keep it practical!
If your help is required, first tend to your friend’s practical needs
before offering advice, counseling or consolation. What does he need? Money?
Food? A place to stay? A baby-sitter, or pet-sitter? A lead or referral?
Nothing is more frustrating to someone looking for practical help then getting
a flood of ideas and suggestions. Especially, don’t send your friend another
website link. For that, there’s Google!

4.     Do not disappear!
The worst you can do is walking out the door, physically or emotionally –
stopping calling, stopping writing, stopping visiting with your friend. He will
have to deal with your absence beside his already existing stressors, and it
could be painful.

Most people don’t know what to say when someone is hurting. Instead of
avoiding the awkward silence by staying away, reach out to your friend and tell
him: “I see how difficult it is for you right now, and I don’t really know what
to say to you”. Your presence alone may be all the support that your friend
needs, and it may make a difference.

5. Do not rely solely on words to show support!

Touch! A warm, caring hand on your friend’s shoulder, a hug, a kiss on
her cheek, touching her hand – is louder than words in showing your presence,
care and willingness to give support.

“Is there anything that I could have done to help?”

“Yes”, I told my friend, the dancer: “You could have held me, given me a hug, you could
have told me of your concern for me, and let me know that you were there for me
in case I needed you.”