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How to Help People in Pain

When someone we know and care about is experiencing emotional pain and hurt, it can feel so hard to know what to do. Because we care about them, we naturally want them to feel better. But sometimes our attempts at cheering up the person in pain can feel like a total loss. This can bring up feelings of powerlessness or helplessness on our part as we try with little effect to cheer up the person in pain. But these attempts often lead to little effective help because our go to strategies aren’t as helpful as we might think they are. We tend to move towards interactions that involve trying to cheer the person up. We encourage them to look on the bright side and to be strong by moving past the pain and overcoming it. But what this actually ends up doing is having the person in pain hold onto their pain stronger and stop sharing it with us. When we tell someone to “look on the bright side” or “focus on what you do still have” or “this could have been worse” or “at least_(fill in the blank)_” we are indirectly invalidating the pain that they are in. And when pain goes invalidated, it holds on tight.

What actually helps someone feel better is a very counter intuitive concept. How we help people when they are in pain is actually letting them be in pain. Pain does not want to be advised, fixed, or saved but simply witnessed, exactly as it is. What this is actually doing is acknowledging that pain is present and this can make things feel better when the pain can not be made right. Joining someone in their pain can do way more wonders for the person feeling the pain than trying to make the pain change and be something else. This works because pain can not be healed by trying to take it away from existence. Acknowledgement makes pain be known and given attention. It opens up space for the person in pain to be able to say “this hurts” without feeling obligated or forced to be talked out of the pain. It opens up a space for the pain to be heard and be seen which can in turn make the pain feel better. Letting pain and hurt exist helps it to heal which then helps us to get our desired end result, a loved one in pain feeling better.

Here are some phrases you can try to use to practice acknowledging pain:

  • “I am sorry that is happening. Do you want to tell me about it?”
  • “What is this like for you?”
  • “That sounds hard, I am sorry you are experiencing this”
  • “I can see/hear how painful this is for you”
  • “I understand, I would be sad/hurt too”
  • “Thank you for sharing with me, I can tell this is hard”

Here are some phrases to try to avoid when people you love are hurting:

  • “Look on the bright side…”
  • “This is what you should do…”
  • “Things could be worse”
  • “This is what I did…”
  • “It’s not that bad”
  • “At least…”

This post was inspired by a YouTube video called How do you help a grieving friend? by Megan Devine with Refuge in Grief. You can learn more around this topic by checking out the video here:

Written by Malinda King, MA, LPCC

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By | 2019-01-29T16:06:33-05:00 February 17th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments
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