Michigan Association of Health Plans

What To Say When A Friend Is Struggling

We want to be supportive of our friends, colleagues, partners and family members when they’re having a hard time. But what does that actually look like?

“Showing up is the act of bearing witness to people’s joy, pain, and true selves,” Rachel Wilkerson Miller writes in the first chapter of her new book, The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People. “[It’s] validating their experiences; easing their load; and communicating that they are not alone in this life.”

Miller walks us through the do’s and don’ts of showing up for your people.

Keep your focus on your friend.

When a friend is confiding in you, it’s easy to let the focus of your conversation drift away from the friend’s experience. While it’s tempting to chime in with a similar story in an effort to relate and connect, it’s not always welcome. Your friend might feel silenced or feel that you’ve made their pain about you.

If you do feel that your experience might be helpful to hear, Miller’s tip is to let them know that you went through something similar but allow them to decide if they want to hear about it in the moment.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “You get to tell them they’re not alone, but you’re not going to bore them with a story about how your pet died after their sibling died. You can let them decide if these things are related or not.”

Ask how you can best help.

You don’t need to automatically know what kind of help your friend wants. Just ask! Miller says to try these questions:

  • What’s the best way I can support you right now?
  • Do you need someone to vent to? Or would you like my advice?
  • How are you feeling about [whatever tough experience your friend is going through]?
  • Tell me about your thought process.

A heartfelt “I’m sorry” goes a long way.

People may shy away from saying, “I’m sorry” in response to someone’s misfortune because it might not feel like enough of an acknowledgment. But Miller says a genuine “I’m sorry” can go a long way to make your friend feel heard and validated.

“Sometimes there isn’t a perfect response that is going to make people feel better,” she says. “What you want to do is communicate, ‘You’re not alone. I’m with you. This sucks. I’m so sorry it’s happening to you.’ “

This article was originally featured on National Public Radio, read more here.