Knowing how to comfort someone who is going through a difficult time isn’t always easy. We want to do our best to help make someone feel better, but sometimes the fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing gets in the way.
Comforting someone can be complex and sometimes even awkward but it has many benefits for both yourself and the person you are comforting. Comforting others helps us to learn and practice our emotional regulation skills, and also connects us to others.
In this article, we will look at what effective comforting looks like, why it is important, and 5 practical tips to help comfort others during their time of need.
What does effective comforting look like?
Val Walker wrote a book called “The Art of Comforting” where she researches and interviews “master comforters” to create a guide to gracefully help those who are going through difficult times.
Her work outlines some of the key characteristics of effective comforting, including empathy, non-verbal behavior, and tailored comforting.
- Empathy: Comforting someone is built on empathy, which means feeling understood, heard and not alone. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person must relate or completely understand what we are going through, but that they accept and validate the distress we are experiencing.
- Non-verbal behavior: Non-verbal behavior is crucial when comforting someone. Non-verbal behavior can signal that we care, and we are here. For example, leaning slightly forward, eye contact, and avoiding distractions such as your phone, all show that you are present, and that you are listening.
- Tailored: People like to be comforted in different ways. Sometimes this can mean talking it out, but other times it can mean offering a distraction. Going to see a movie, going for a walk, or grabbing a coffee can be just as helpful as having a deep conversation. Consider what they need, and what makes them feel a sense of comfort. It is okay to ask them if you aren’t sure!
Why is it important?
Studies show that helping others helps you to regulate your own emotions. Emotional regulation skills refer to the ability to exercise control over your behavior and emotions. Comforting others allows us the opportunity to practice emotion regulation skills that can be used in future situations.
When we comfort others, we often show empathy by trying to imagine the situation from the perspective of the other person. However, we are still able to keep an emotional distance from the situation. Having that psychological distance can enhance reasoning and emotional regulation skills, which can be used in the future.
Another benefit of providing comfort to people is that it connects us to others. As stated earlier, empathy is the foundation of providing effective comfort. Empathy connects us to others as it allows us to feel and understand the experiences of others.
Something as simple as “I hear you and I am here for you” can mean so much and give a sense of connection, making us feel less alone in the world. An added bonus is that studies show that being more connected to others is good for our well-being!
5 tips to comfort someone
The truth is you don’t need to be a qualified expert to provide comfort. There are many simple ways in which we can comfort someone! Here are 5 tips to help you when you are in a situation where someone you know needs a bit of comfort.
1. Tell them you care
Something as simple as letting the person know that we care about them can make all the difference. It shows that they matter to you and that you are there to support them through difficult times.
It doesn’t have to be overly poetic or complicated. As long as it is genuine and comes from a place of empathy.
2. Remind them you are there for them
Reminding the person that you are there for them may help them to feel less alone and overwhelmed.
It can also help when the person doesn’t want to talk at first. You can let them know that you are there for them, whenever they need someone to talk to. Being there for someone is not a ‘one and done’ thing.
It’s important to continue to offer your support and check in regularly, even after you have comforted them.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask them how you can support them
Comforting someone doesn’t always mean having deep and difficult discussions. It can take many forms, and different people may need different means of comfort. A good idea might be to ask them how you can be more supportive to them.
Asking the individual “How can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do for you?” can help you to better understand what your loved one needs in that moment. It could be an ear to listen, or someone to provide them with a distraction, but you may not know until you ask!
4. Validate their feelings
Validating someone’s feelings is a way to communicate acceptance, care, and understanding. Validating a loved one and acknowledging that you hear them doesn’t mean you must agree with them and completely understand their situation.
It just means that we support them and that it is okay for them to experience the feelings they have.
Validation helps people to feel safe in sharing their thoughts and feelings. Saying something as simple as “That sounds really difficult, I can see why you are feeling so overwhelmed”, can provide a sense of comfort, leaving the person to feel heard, understood and accepted.
5. Don’t minimize their feelings or focus solely on trying to cheer them up
When you are faced with someone who is in distress, your natural response may be to cheer them up with smiles or jokes or try to tell them it’s “no big deal” and things will be okay. Sometimes it may not feel like a big deal to you, but what the other person is going through is real.
It is not helpful to minimize their emotions and experiences. In fact, it will likely leave them feeling misunderstood. Refer back to tip number 4; validate their feelings.
Don’t automatically try to cheer them up, rather, be by their side and reaffirm that you are there to support them in whatever way they need.
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Being able to provide comfort to the people in your life who are going through difficult times is such a wonderful skill to have. Don’t stress trying to find the “perfect” thing to say. Rather, tell them you care, reaffirm your support, and most importantly, meet them with empathy, validation, and authenticity.
Are you a good comforter? Have you comforted one of your friends recently? Or do you want to share a tip that I missed in this article? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!