Menu Close

How to be there for someone – even when you don’t know what to say

How to be there for someone – even when you don’t know what to say
How to be there for someone – even when you don’t know what to say

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to share insights into how to be there for someone – even when and if you don’t know what to say.

First a quick update:

“3 Reasons Men Fear Commitment – ‘Am I big enough?’”
Just recently uncovered and now posted on YouTube, watch the TV interview I gave to The Morning Show about the key reasons men fear commitment and how that also relates to feeling good enough and being able to provide. Also watch the TV interview I gave to Daytime about the male fear of commitment and how it relates to the way the media portrays men as inferior and idiots.

Now, let’s talk about how to be there for someone.

A few years ago, Montel Williams asked me to work with a family for his TV show. The blended family, based in Michigan, was undergoing a crisis. The daughters were fighting with their stepmother – even physically attacking her. But their problems also extended to their father whom they described as ‘trash.’ When speaking further with the daughters they told me that their father showed little interest in them, rarely asked questions about school and their daily life, and never listened to them.

The father, expressing his perspective, told me that he’s “always there and they know that.” But when prodded to explain what he meant by being there, he couldn’t give me an answer.

All alone
You’re only half as strong
Why don’t you come and play
You don’t have to go your own way
–       Kyle Auldist

“Being there” for someone refers to loving, supporting, backing, taking care of, encouraging, accepting, cheering on, comforting, caring, soothing, listening, helping, defending, and so forth.

Of course, when faced with a friend who is going through depression, pain, a difficult time or loss, most people either don’t know what to say or they do the opposite – they offer reams of advice.

In fact, many women complain that when they have a problem and share it with their male partner, he will, without fail, offer advice and try to solve the problem.

But the woman says that she doesn’t want advice or a solution. So what do they then want?

They want sympathy, empathy and compassion.

Above all, they want him to listen – without judgment.

And this is the key answer and definition of being there: listening without judgment and without advice, correction or scolding.

Here are some simple suggestions of how to be there for a friend or a loved one.

Allow him/her to speak openly and freely, without interrupting them. Allow him/her to repeat him/herself and to cry or express emotion (frustration, anger, disappointment, pain, hurt) without denying their feelings or telling them that they shouldn’t be feeling that way.

Validate their feelings
When we experience a challenge or pain, we need to express our feelings but to do so, we also need to become aware and acknowledge what we actually feel. Be there for your friend by gently asking “What do you feel?” or by validating their feelings i.e. “I hear your anger and your pain.”

Support and reassure
The words “It’s okay, I am here” are extraordinarily powerful and can be very comforting and reassuring. Very often, people experiencing pain, confusion or anxiety are looking to be comforted, consoled and reassured that they will be okay, that they will be able to get past this pain, and the phrase “It’s okay” or “it will be okay” offers tremendous support and comfort. Also reassure him/her that you are here for them, you support them and will help in any way you can. Ask “What else can I do to support you?”

Be present
Simply spending time with your friend, standing in their physical presence shows that you care and helps to make him/her feel safe. It also sends the message, without words, that your friend isn’t alone. Give them undivided attention when you are ‘there’ with them – in their presence.

Hold & hug
Physical touch such as hugging, holding, caressing and expressing affection is one of the most powerful ways to express and demonstrate caring, acceptance, love and support. It also deepens the bond and connection between the two of you. Of course, you need to decide when hugging or holding is or isn’t appropriate – use your intuition.

Show acceptance – don’t judge
Listen without judging the person. Instead, accept them by simply listening. For example, if he/she is suffering as a result of a stupid action on their part or for failing to listen to your past warnings or the warnings of others, beware of stating the obvious – “I told you so.” Also, beware of telling them how they screwed up or how bad they are; they most likely already feel guilty or stupid. Sometimes, our own frustrations and feelings of helplessness move us to want to correct or scold them but this gesture never helps to resolve the immediate problem. Once past the pain and challenge, the right time will appear to discuss how to prevent a repeat of the mistake.

Do not give advice
Men often want to instantly resolve the problem, issue or pain by dispensing advice and offering a solution. This action is ‘intellectualizing’ the problem. Men offer a solution because they are action-oriented versus feeling-oriented. They also don’t want the person they love to suffer and they believe the way to instantly dissolve the pain is to resolve the problem, versus allowing the other person to first experience the feelings and emotions and then move to a practical solution. However, as stated earlier, the person actually needs empathy, support and reassurance. However, after he/she has expressed their feelings and emotions, it is okay to ask him/her if they need help to resolve the issue or if they want advice.

Speak caring words
It is natural to struggle to find words that will magically heal or remove all of the pain. Sometimes, there are no magical-wand-answers to a person’s pain or loss. However, you might consider expressing empathy and caring  along with hope with words such as:

“I am sorry that you are hurting…I am sorry that you are experiencing this right now…I know you are hurting and it hurts me to see you this way…I don’t have the words to remove your pain but I love and care for you and I am here to help and support you in any way I can or in any way that you need me..You are not alone – I am here with you..We will get through this together.”

Ultimately, the most important aspect of being there is your sincere desire and genuine concern for your friend or loved one. Recent studies reveal that the human brain processes emotional pain as physical pain. In other words, the brain cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional pain – they are both real. And the only solution to pain is love and comfort. Approach and “be there” for your friend and loved one with an open and caring heart.

You can post your comment on this newsletter  directly below.

If this newsletter was forwarded to you and would like to receive all of my newsletters please enter your email address on the home page.

I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

Facebook Comments