How to Help Someone Going Through a Difficult Time

As we enter month 7 of the global pandemic, it seems that suffering and hardship has only been enhanced. We are now seeing wildfires burn through the west coast, businesses closing, people struggling to pay bills, put food on the table, or even avoid the doctor because they are afraid of medical debt. The deep pain of racial injustice is palpable.

All of these issues, with the exception of the pandemic, were always ever-present, but it seems that the pandemic as well as other major events have made things worse. At times, things can feel apocalyptic. Taking care of our mental health is more important than ever, but feels almost impossible when so many of us are stretched so thin. We may feel helpless and it also may feel like nothing we can say or do can be enough to take the pain away from the people we know who are suffering right now.

How to help

Given all of this, sometimes the only thing we can do for those we love who are going through a hard time is to be attuned, present, and empathetic.

Here are some tips to help people going through a hard time:
1. Ask yourself, or ask the person who is hurting what they need: Attunement is trying to imagine what someone else may need and acting accordingly. Often it may be very different from what you need. If you know the person well, you may already know what’s helpful to them. Maybe they want someone to listen to them without judgment, maybe they want to be left alone, or maybe they want to be distracted from reality. If you’re not sure what someone needs, it’s okay to ask. Asking can look something like: “What do you need right now from me? Is there anything I can do to help? Even if it’s just listening with a non-judgmental ear.”

2. Listen without judgment: As mentioned above, you can offer to listen to someone without judgment or offering a solution. The offer in itself can be such a gift because so many of us are not used to someone asking us that, and so many of us are not used to being listened to without judgment! Listening with an empathetic ear is something that automatically makes someone feel heard, supported, and loved.

3. Validate their feelings and experience: You may not understand the specific circumstances of another person, and you may handle the situation totally different from them, but that does not mean you cannot validate their experience. Validation is not agreement or even understanding, but it is another form of attunement. You can make sense of why the person is reacting to a situation, or why they may be feeling a certain way. Validation is as simple as: “It makes sense that you feel so overwhelmed right now,” or, “all your feelings make so much sense.”

4. Offer to do something that might be helpful: Even if someone doesn’t take you up on your offer, you can suggest ideas of things you can do to help your loved one. Maybe that’s cooking a meal for them, or offering them a few hours of childcare so they can get things done. 

In conclusion

Human beings often have an urge to fix or solve things when someone they love is in pain. There are many times we won’t be able to fix their problems, but know that there is great power in just being present, sensitive, attuned, and empathetic.

Lena’s Interview in Oprah Magazine:

Lena Derjhally is a Psychotherapist and author of Amazon best-seller, “My Daddy is a Hero:” How Chris Watts Went from Family Man to Family Killer