How to help someone who's hurting

How to help someone who’s hurting


You know someone who’s hurting. Someone whose marriage is crumbling, whose child is rebelling, whose emotional health is unstable. Someone who has experienced the death of a loved one. I know you know these people, because I see you signing up for meal trains or posting prayer requests or sending little emojis of yourself saying “You got this!” or “Thinking about you.”

We hope it’s enough to help someone.

It’s not.

That’s the hard thing about helping someone’s who’s hurting. You can’t feel the depth of their pain or despair. You aren’t lying awake night after night while the demons of self-doubt, fear, and shame pummel you into an abyss of hopelessness. You aren’t dealing with a threat to safety and lifelong dreams.

Your life is marching on—however difficult that is on a normal day—while another person’s life screeches to a paralyzing stop. Hurting people (whether they’re getting professional help or not) need caring friends to guide them back to normalcy.

Here are a few suggestions of what to do in order to promote resilience in someone who’s hurting:

  1. Ask “What would I want someone to do for me, if I were in this situation?” and “What would I need, even if I was too afraid to ask for it?” You can certainly ask them what they’d like you to do, but chances are, they won’t have the mental capacity to know what they need.
  2. Listen and empathize. You can say, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you” or “I can’t imagine what that’s like.” If you’ve experienced a similar heartache, it’s okay to say how you felt during your ordeal, but it’s risky to say, “I know exactly how you feel” because you don’t. People respond to crises differently.
  3. Be generous with your time and money without enabling co-dependent behavior. Help them organize details and time-consuming activities by delegating, relegating, or absorbing tasks that they are unable to do (if these things demand someone’s immediate attention).
  4. Give grace concerning their failings. Everyone is capable of doing anything, given the right circumstances and motivations. While you don’t want to condone bad decisions or actions, not much good comes from chiding a person’s decisions after the fact. Encourage them to start anew and make different choices. Articulate that bad choices don’t define us, but our resilience does.
  5. Pray for and with your friend. Form a prayer and/or accountability group; you can assign members a day of the week to pray and encourage your hurting friend. Involve your hurting friend in a safe haven of helpers instead of talking about the person and his/her problems with one another.
  6. Meet regular needs like bringing meals, buying groceries, mowing the grass, sending reminders about upcoming events. Depending on your previous closeness, you can enter into someone else’s world and shoulder some of burdens until that person can move from non-functioning to functioning independently.
  7. Airlift a hurting friend from the daily struggle. Enjoy a day or weekend at a relaxing location. Take a hike or sit on the beach. Help a hurting person find a safe space to live apart from the pain and stress of their trauma, at least for a little while.
  8. Try to make hurting people feel comfortable both talking with you or sitting in silence. Usually, they just want someone to listen to them vent. Emotional safety provides space for people to grieve and grow however they need to do it.
  9. Speak truth with clarity, conviction, and gentleness. Stop language and behavior that spins into a crazy cycle of negative or maniacal thinking and refer your hurting friend to a professional. Also make sure that everything you say is with love and concern. People in crisis hear tone, not words. (Actually, that’s true of most people!)
  10. Don’t give up on your friend. People lose themselves during trauma, sometimes for years. Keep the communication and support open so that when your hurting friend turns the corner into health and wholeness, your friendship can be a foundation for re-establishment. Too often, people give up on each other during hardship, which compounds the pain of betrayal for everyone involved. Relationships are designed for support.

Influencing dramatic recovery in someone’s life is more than a casserole. It means creating space where others see walls. It means limiting self to promote the greater good. It’s a team win rather than a personal best.

Freedom follows sacrifice.

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