How to Help Hurting People

Recently a friend asked me for advice on how to help someone who just lost her husband. She was concerned about her friend’s wellbeing and wondered what she could do to help her. She saw that the woman was using unhealthy coping strategies such as overspending, drinking too much and angry outbursts. She asked me how she could advise her friend so her friend would not self-destruct.
Here are my tips:

  1. Listen rather than give advice: Lean to empathize and encourage. When a person is hurting they usually don’t want your advice they just want others to validate their pain. That is the first and main step towards helping someone who is grieving. Most of us want a solution or a way to fix things so we feel helpful. However, trying to offer ways to fix the problem isn’t usually the best way to support someone who is hurting. They usually aren’t ready to take any steps towards change because they are emotionally tapped out. Give them time.
  2.  Ask them how you can help them: If you see that the person continues to self-destruct after a long period of time ask them if they want your help. If they say they do, ask them how you can help. Also suggest they obtain counseling. Grief counseling is something that can help your friend as she faces a large void in her life and experiences a lot of transition.
  3. Know when to let go: If the person continues to stay stuck and doesn’t get any better try backing off and let them take ownership for their healing. You are not responsible for their wellbeing. They are the only one that has the power to heal. Their lack of motivation and resistance to change has nothing to do with you. The more you try to change them the more they will feel the pressure and avoid you. Step back and let them figure it out.
  4. Create healthy boundaries: If you find yourself becoming more and more frustrated by seeing someone you care about self-destruct the best thing you can do is to create better boundaries by distancing yourself from them. If they come back to you for help just listen. They aren’t looking for ways to change. If just listening becomes too difficult continue to distance yourself and let them learn to figure out how to find help. Sometimes a person has to hit “rock bottom” to be motivated to change.
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