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5 Ways to Help a Loved One Who is Hurting

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life and seeks to help others through theirs.


Everyone Experiences Pain

Her shoulders were hunched, her head bowed, and the sobs that I heard coming from her tore at my heart strings. I could not simply walk by and do nothing. As I sat down beside her, she raised her head. I offered a tissue and she wiped her nose. "It sounds like you are having a tough time," I said quietly. She nodded her head and looked at her hands. "Would you like to talk about it?" I asked.

I don't remember all that was said, but by the time she finished telling me what was happening, her shoulders were no longer drooping and her eyes were a little bit brighter. She thanked me for stopping and as I walked away, I thanked the Lord for giving me the opportunity to help.

Like a life guard who jumps in the pool when someone is drowning, we may be the life-line needed to keep someone from going under. Pain distorts our thinking processes. All we know is that we hurt, and we want the pain to go away. Some pain is only temporary. Some lasts a lifetime.

Life is pain

— Wesley in Princess Bride

Compassion Heals

We all experience pain. Whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise, pain is an integral part of our lives. That doesn't make it any easier to deal with. No matter who we are, we will have the opportunity to be in the presence of someone we love who is hurting.

At first we may be tempted to tell them to "buck up," "suck it up," or "get a life." We may be annoyed that they are showing weakness in our presence, or perhaps feel that they are whining and complaining when what we really need them to do is get over it and move on.

This may not be the best way to deal with the situation. Showing compassion increases the depth of our relationships. We help the other person feel validated and loved. The time will come when the shoe will be on the other foot, and we will want the same from them. Here are five ways to be helpful:

  1. Listen to their story
  2. Reflect back their feelings
  3. Give encouragement
  4. Facilitate decisions
  5. Access available resources

These steps are discussed in this article.


Listen to Their Story

Allowing someone to share their story lessens the pain for a time and gives them hope for a better tomorrow. Their burden is lifted. They feel valuable, needed, and loved. They have the strength to go on.

Just like the woman cited at the beginning of the article, when we share the story of our pain with someone who cares, we share the burden of that pain as well. The pain lessens, and we feel better about ourselves.

When we take the time to listen, we set aside our own agenda, schedule, and preoccupations. We show that we value the other person as we sit with them and listen to what they have to say. We withhold judgement and as we do, we feel empathy and understanding. They feel love.

Reflect Back Their Feelings

Pain is often accompanied by poignant feelings. It has been said that anger is past pain and hurt is present pain. A person may lash out at others when they are hurting, even desire revenge or want to retaliate for what another has done to them.

Our best reaction when we see this happening is to reflect back to the person what we hear them saying, both the emotion we think they are experiencing and our understanding of what they have told us. We become a mirror that helps them see themselves more clearly while they work through their pain.

"I" messages work best for this type of communication. They let the person know that we are striving to understand what they are telling us. The following are examples:

  • I hear you saying...
  • I think that sounds like...
  • I see frustration...
  • I sense fear...
  • I feel anger just hearing that...
  • I understand...

The time we take to reflectively listen enables the one hurting to rethink what is happening and redefine or re-frame what they are experiencing. Pain lessens when the source is identified and a plan made to deal with it. We share the burden of their pain when they know we understand how they feel.

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Give Encouragement

Encouragement includes words, phrases, and actions that help others feel better about themselves. The video "Be Kind to Yourself" shows examples of how giving encouragement to others helps them to feel better when they are in pain.

The same holds true for ourselves. Giving encouragement to ourselves helps when we are in pain. Our inner critic often makes its appearance when we are at our lowest. We may have to step outside ourselves for a moment and pretend that we are someone else.

Treating ourselves with compassion is just as vital when we are in pain as it is to others when they are in pain. Life is too short to leave others and ourselves hurting, when we could be offering the healing salve of compassion.


Facilitate Decisions

Once the story is told, it is time for problem solving. It would be easy to tell the other person what to do, but that would negate the work we have already done in helping them accept and own the problem.

Facilitating means helping, allowing the person in pain to come up with their own solutions while we help the process. It means continuing to listen, asking questions that help them come up with solutions, and letting them know that we have faith in their ability to act.

We may never know the results of our assistance. That is okay. We help the person get back on their feet, brush themselves off, and go on living. The important thing is the engendering of hope and faith to put one foot in front of the other in moving forward.

The right to make a decision, then, is now ours, and it is the greatest asset we have on earth.

— Eldred G. Smith

Access Available Resources

Being on the outside looking in, we often find ourselves seeing others who are experiencing something we have gone through previously. If this is the case, we have firsthand knowledge of resources available that they may not see.

As we suggest possible options of people and agencies that are available, we give hope that the future will be brighter. We may even want to hold their hand and walk with them as they take steps in the right direction. Paramount, however, is the knowledge and understanding that the problem is theirs. They own the pain. We cannot remove it from them.

Our job is to support and sustain them during the healing process. Their growth and development will only come when they take the steps necessary to deal with their pain and heartache. We have worked through our own, and are better as a result. They will as well. One day, they will be able to do what we have done, help someone else who is hurting.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Denise W Anderson


Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on January 25, 2021:

Thanks, Brenda. That is the key, to treat others as we would like to be treated. We never know when the shoe will be on the other foot and we will be in a position to need compassion. I appreciate your comments.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 24, 2021:

Interesting article. It shows compassion when one needs it the most.

You are right..sometimes it is hard to do, but it is wirth it in the end.

Treat others as you would want yo be treated.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on January 24, 2021:

That is so true, Clive. Many people are on automatic pilot and don't think about what is happening around them until they are the one in need of help. Then their eyes are opened to others who may be in the same boat. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Denise W Anderson (author) from Bismarck, North Dakota on January 24, 2021:

You are right, Dora. Sometimes we don't think about common sense until it is too late and we have passed up the opportunity to help. That is why it is so important to keep our eyes and ears open. Then we can sense what to say at the right time. I appreciate your comments.

Clive Williams from Jamaica on January 23, 2021:

Very Helpful information, especially showing compassion. Something many lack today.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 23, 2021:

Seems like common sense, and it is, but we often miss the steps in our zeal to help. Thanks for these valuable insights.

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