How to Talk to a Friend in Pain In tough times, it seems some people always know just what to say. Whether it’s a death in the family, a job loss or a divorce, certain friends have a way of offering the compassion, kindness and support we so desperately need.
When it comes to pain, however, it can be difficult for even the most sympathetic of us to find the right words to show our loved ones that we care for them and want to help. Part of the reason it’s difficult is because pain often isolates its victims. People in pain may be unwilling to talk about the extent of their difficulties out of fear of being judged or misunderstood. And when they’re not talking about it, it can be awkward to bring up the subject; you don’t want to remind them of their troubles nor do you want to dwell on them. Further, you don’t want to make the situation worse by saying the wrong thing.
But no matter how uncomfortable it might be, it is important to make an effort to show your loved ones that you support them and that you are ready to talk when they are. Here are some tips about how to create a meaningful dialogue with a friend in pain:
•Ask permission. If you feel uncomfortable even broaching the subject, ask if they would like to talk about it. If they say, “no,” then tell them you’re willing to talk about it when they are ready and move on. •Acknowledge the situation. Don’t pretend that if you don’t bring it up, it’s not there. Ask how they are feeling and what they have been experiencing. •Be direct. Say that you love them, you care about them and you are here for them. •Give them the freedom to feel. By asking them questions about their emotions, such as “Are you frustrated?” or “Do you ever wonder ‘why me’?” you may provide a positive outlet for feelings they have been ashamed of. •Provide distraction. If your friend is depressed or isolated, talk to them about light-hearted things happening in the world. The latest celebrity news, family stories or jokes may put a much-needed smile on his or her face. •Remind them that they are not responsible for their condition. People in pain often feel like it’s somehow their fault, that if only they were stronger or more resilient then they wouldn’t be suffering. Point out how strong and resilient you think they are in the face of what they’re experiencing. Tell them you’re proud to be their friend. •Don’t ask if there’s “anything” you can do. Asking open-ended questions like “Is there anything I can do?” may backfire. Your friend will likely say, “Oh no, there isn’t. Thanks, though…” and never ask you for anything. A better strategy is to think about the person’s daily life and struggles and come up with certain errands or tasks you could help them with. Examples might be looking after kids, picking up groceries or making dinner. Keep asking until your friend trusts that you really want to help. •Show your empathy with your body language. Hug, touch and maintain eye contact with your friend. Show them you are there – physically and emotionally – and that they have your attention and care.