How to Help a Hurting Human – the “Dos”

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a year that has engendered a lot of pain in a lot of people. Furthermore, the holidays are now approaching quickly, and many people struggle during the holiday season during years that are otherwise not quite as  challenging as 2020 has been. Without a doubt, you know someone who is hurting, and most likely, you’ll be getting some practice on what to do and not to do when interacting with them, and I want to help set you up for success.

Last week, we covered four “don’ts,” things we should avoid doing when interacting with a friend who is hurting. This week, I’m sharing a few “dos” to help you and the person you’re communicating with navigate potentially difficult discussions, so you come away feeling like you honored them and didn’t add to their pain, and they feel like you added value to their life (or at least didn’t make it worse!). Here are three things you can do:


Listen. When someone talks to you about their trials, whether the trials are physical, emotional spiritual, relational, etc., just listen. You don’t actually have to say much. You can let them know you’re listening by occasionally telling them some version of “I’m with you.” Or you can ensure they know they still have your attention by making eye contact (preferably not with glazed-over eyes). Nod and/or make sympathetic noises. Occasionally confirm that you understand by saying a version of, “It sounds like you’re saying ______________, is that right?” You’ve got this: speak less, listen more.


Minimize Your Exposure

  • If you can’t resist minimizing the other person’s issues, minimize your time with them. You can do this tactfully, if you try, and it may preserve your friendship. We can’t stay in the mud with someone else forever. However, I urge caution here: if you value the person and the relationship, don’t abandon them. Just make the visits farther between and shorter. I have recently discovered the value of scheduling particularly challenging people to meet at a location an hour before it closes. Disclaimer: It doesn’t mean that’s always the case when I schedule late appointments – sometimes it’s because I only have an hour and I really want to spend some time with the other person, even if we have to be brief. But this scenario takes me out of the hot seat for finding a way to end the conversation if I simply cannot endure much of it and I don’t want to further tax an already-hurting person’s feelings.


Steer Them Toward Help

  • Sometimes the other person’s crisis lasts a long time. Hopefully, if this is the case, they will seek professional help, or, as I’ve referred to it, hire a “rent-a-friend.” There have been seasons in my life when it began to feel to me (and most likely to my friends as well) that I was sucking the life out of my friends by dwelling on the negativity in my life every time I was around them. I realized I needed a “rent-a-friend” to listen and help me sort out my junk before my friends wisely jumped ship and renting a friend was the only way I’d have one.  There is no shame in finding a qualified counselor to help us when we’re in a rut, and it may well save the relationships we value and hope to still be a part of when the darkness abates and the sun comes out again (and it will come out again).
  • If you are close enough to the hurting person and their issues have been going on a while or you think they’re sinking in quicksand, AND if you can do so from a place of love and concern for their best interest, you may be able to recommend they find a counselor.
    • Before you take this on, be very honest with yourself about your role in the person’s life. As a counselor, it would not bother me if someone I know loves me told me they feel like it may be time for me to seek help from a counselor. That said, not everyone in my life has earned the right to speak into my life at the same level.
    • Be gentle, loving and cautious with your words. Getting professional help can be very scary and may make your friend defensive if they’re uncomfortable/unfamiliar with counseling. They may feel like you’re calling them crazy and pretty much no one wants to hear that. Employ wisdom and loads of grace and love here.
    • If you’re a super-duper-amazing friend, and you’re in their inner circle, you may even come to this conversation with the names and numbers of a couple of counselors you’ve researched, who seem reputable and seem to share the other person’s values.

I hope these pointers help you breathe a little easier and enhance your relationships by equipping you with (or reminding you of) some ways you can best be there for those you care about who are going through a rough season in their lives.

Keep in mind, you’ve probably been that person at one time or another, and you may yet bet that person in the coming weeks. Wouldn’t it be nice if the people you talk to, especially your closer friends, had these tools in their pockets, too? Well, they can; feel free to like and share last week’s post and this one!

I look forward to reading your additional suggestions in the comments!


How to Help a Hurting Human – The “Don’ts”

There is a LOT going on in the world right now. I know you know this, but I mention it because a byproduct of this truth is that people are struggling. Lots of them. Struggling HARD. I guarantee that at least some of them are in your sphere of influence, and there are some points that bear mentioning now and then when it comes to interacting with someone who is hurting.

So, I thought I’d share some dos and don’ts to help. You probably are aware of some or even all of these, but a refresher might be timely, particularly with the holidays approaching.

While I’m only scratching the surface, this post was a bit long, so I split it into two posts. This week, for brevity, I’ll share four “don’ts” with you, and three “dos” next week. So, without further ado, the “don’ts” (see how I did that?) …


Tell them it could be worse. 

  • It is doubtful that any of us has ever encountered an adult who doesn’t fully understand that “it could always be worse,” so don’t say that. Or any version of it. When people come to me with troubles, they often tell me early on some variation of “I know it could be worse,” or, “I know it’s not the worst thing in the world that can happen,” or, “I know others who have it worse than I do, but …” and frankly it bothers me that people have become so accustomed to other people’s callousness that they feel they need to minimize their own problems in order to appear rational.
    • While I suppose it’s healthy to acknowledge that whatever is bothering us is, in fact, not the worst problem any human has ever experienced, it is nonetheless the situation we are in at this moment, and it’s a legitimate problem for us or we wouldn’t be talking about it.
    • (Also, I wonder if sometimes people don’t say it as a preemptive strike, so they don’t have to endure hearing it from the other person).
  • Let’s face it: it’s an insult to the hurting person’s intelligence and it often comes across as, “yeah, yeah, yeah … cut to the chase, and get happy already because I’m uncomfortable with your discomfort.”


Say “At least…”

  • If at some point in the conversation with a hurting person you feel compelled to allow yourself to say anything starting with, “At least…” STOP YOURSELF. Bite your tongue as hard as you have to, but DON’T SAY IT. Examples:
    • “At least today’s better than yesterday.” This can come across as, “Wow! So, you’re good now! What a relief for me!”
    • “At least it’s only going to cost you $300 instead of $1000.” That $300 is big potatoes or they probably wouldn’t be bothered about it. There have been times in my life when $300 might as well have been $5,000. Allow for their perception of the issue.
    • “At least it’s fixable.” They probably are aware of this, but the waiting time for the fix may feel like an eternity. Maybe they’ll be in a lot of pain until then. Maybe the fix comes with its own scary challenges.
    • “At least you’re not alone.” Nope, they’re not – they have you, dear friend, so be good to them and don’t assume you know what their other relationships are like. They chose you to be vulnerable with. Don’t teach them they can’t be.
  • Almost anything coming after “at least” is going to minimize their issue, and here’s another truth: many, many people find it far more difficult to express their feelings than to ignore or minimize them. In other words, they are very likely needing someone who doesn’t need them to minimize their struggles for the other person’s comfort or attention span.


Trivialize, Even Accidentally.

  • Do not quote Romans 8:28 unless they are a brand-new believer and there is a genuine possibility they don’t actually already know this. Just don’t.
  • Do not tell them “This, too, shall pass.” Yuck.
  • Do not tell them “It will get better.” Yuck again.
  • All of the above convey that you don’t have the patience to listen to them, you don’t care or don’t want to be bothered with their problems, that they need to “suck it up and move on,” or that they’re not the sharpest crayon in the box. Just don’t do it.


Play Mr./Ms. Fix It.

  • Do not feel like you need to fix the problem. This one has been around so long and is so obvious that I will not belabor it. As a refresher, just remember that usually your friend just needs to feel heard. Most often, they will make it abundantly clear if they want your advice. Maybe you have to wait until the end of their “rant” for them to ask, “What do you think/What would you do?” but that’s okay. It often helps us sort out our own issues when we simply process them aloud.
  • If you’re in doubt about whether they want your help or just a listening ear, ask them. If you’re uncomfortable with this, just know that many people value this type of clarification and most likely the other person will feel like you’re actually interested in the conversation. You add value to them by asking what they need from you rather than assuming what they need (you’re terrific and all, but not everyone wants or needs to be “rescued” or “fixed,” and your perspective on how you’d handle the problem may or may not actually be a good fit for them).

I look forward to your other recommendations in the comments!

Be sure to check out next week’s Monday Moment at the Well for part two, the “dos,” where I’ll share a juicy nugget I have figured out when dealing with a hurting person who I need to spend less time with.