How to Comfort Someone Who Is Sad

Three Parts:Knowing What to SayLearning to Listen AttentivelyFinishing the Conversation

Comforting someone who's upset can make you feel helpless. Most of the time, you can't physically do anything to help the person. However, just being available and willing to listen is the most important step you can take.

Part 1
Knowing What to Say

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    Open the conversation. Let the person know that you see that they are upset and that you are available to listen. If you don't know the person very well, you could identify why you're trying to help.[1]
    • For instance, if you know the person, you could say, "I see you're having a hard time right now. Do you want to talk about it?"
    • If you don't know the person very well, you could say, "Hi, my name is Jean. I'm another student here, and I saw you were crying. I know I'm a stranger, but if you want, I'll listen to what's upsetting you."
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    Tell it like it is. That is, you may be tempted to dance around the issue if you already know what's wrong. If the person had a loved one die or if they broke up with someone they cared about, you may find yourself not wanting to say what the problem is because you don't want to hurt the person more. However, the person knows what is wrong and is probably already thinking about the situation. Asking about it in clear terms shows you care and are willing to deal with the issue as it is without sugarcoating it, which will likely come as a relief.[2]
    • For instance, you could say something such as "I heard that your father died. That must have been really tough. Do you want to talk about it?"
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    Ask how they're feeling. One way to help get the conversation going is to ask the person how they are feeling. In any situation, a person is going to feel more than one emotion, even in sad situations, so letting them open up about all their emotions can be helpful.[3]
    • For instance, if they had a parent die after a long and complicated illness, of course they are going to feel sad. But they also may be feeling some relief that the illness is over and some guilt on top of that for the relief they are feeling.
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    Keep the attention on them. It's tempting to compare what they're going through with something you've gone through in the past. However, when someone is upset, they don't want to hear about what you went through, necessarily. They want to talk about what's happening in the present.[4]
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    Don't try to turn the conversation instantly positive. It's a natural tendency to want to help the person feel better by having them look at the positive side. However, when you do that, they may feel like you are glossing over what's wrong; that is, they may feel like their feelings aren't important. Just listen without trying to show them the positive side of things.[5]
    • For instance, try not to say things like, "Well, at least you're still alive," "It isn't all bad," or "Cheer up!"
    • Instead, if you must say something, try phrases such as, "It's okay to feel bad; you're going through a tough time."

Part 2
Learning to Listen Attentively

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    Understand the person wants to be heard. Most of the time, people who are crying or upset just need someone to listen to them. Don't try to talk over them and offer them solutions.[6]
    • You may be able to offer solutions near the end of the conversation, but at the beginning, focus on listening.[7]
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    Show you understand. One way to listen attentively is to repeat what the person is saying. That is, you could say, "What I hear you saying is that you are upset because your friend wasn't paying attention to you."[8]
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    Don't get distracted. Keep the conversation on them. Turn off the T.V. Drag your eyes away from your phone.[9]
    • Part of staying focused is not daydreaming either. Also, don't be sitting there trying to think about what you want to say next. Actually take in what they're saying.
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    Use body language to show you are listening. That is, make eye contact with the person. Nod along to what they are saying. Smile at the right moments, or show concern with a frown.[10]
    • Also, keep your body language open. That is, don't cross your arms and legs, and point yourself towards the person.[11]

Part 3
Finishing the Conversation

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    Acknowledge your helplessness. Most people feel helpless when faced with a friend going through a tough time. It's a natural feeling, and you likely won't know what to say to the person. However, just acknowledging that fact and telling the person that you're there for her is often enough.[12]
    • For example, you could say, "I'm so sorry you're going through this. I don't really know what to say to make it better, and I know no words really could. But I want you to know that I'm here for you when you need me."
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    Offer a hug. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer the person a hug. It's always better to ask first, though, because some people may not be comfortable with physical contact, especially if they have been through some kind of trauma.[13]
    • For example, you could say, "I'd like to give you a hug. Would you like that?"
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    Ask about next steps. While there's not always a solution to what's bothering a person, sometimes just making a plan can help them feel better. Therefore, now is the time to gently offer solutions if the don't seem to have any ideas; if they do, encourage them to talk about and plan out what they want to do next.[14]
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    Bring up therapy. If your friend is going through a lot, it's fine to ask if they've thought about seeing a counselor. Unfortunately, seeing a counselor comes with much social stigma, but if your friend has been having trouble for awhile, it may be worth it to talk to someone who knows what they're doing professionally.[15]
    • Of course, the stigma around seeing a counselor is unjust. You may even need to convince your friend that it's perfectly fine to see a counselor. You'll be helping to combat that stigma by letting your friend know you'll still see them as the same person even if they need a little help.
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    Ask if you can do anything. Whether someone wants to talk weekly or just go out for brunch once in awhile, you may be able to help. You may also be able to help by offering support with difficult tasks, such as supporting the person if they're obtaining a death certificate for a loved one. Just open up the conversation to see if the person needs anything in particular.
    • If the person seems uncertain about asking you for help, offer up concretes suggestions. For instance, you could say, "I'd love to be able to help. I can drive you somewhere if you need me, or I can help by bringing food over, for example. Just let me know what you need."
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    Be sincere. If you offer support or help of any kind, make sure you are willing to follow through. For instance, if you say, "Feel free to call me, and talk anytime," actually be willing to drop what you're doing to talk. Similarly, if you offer to do something, such as drive the person to therapy, be the person who actually shows up to do it.[16]
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    Check in again. Most people have trouble reaching out to someone when they need help, especially emotional help. Therefore, don't forget to check in with the person from time to time. It's important to be available if she needs it.[17]


  • Don't force someone to talk if they don't want to. They have to be ready to open up to someone first.

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Categories: Maintaining Relationships