It can be difficult to watch a family member, friend, or loved one go through a hard time. It can be even more difficult to know how to help.
When you want to support a loved one who is struggling — whether they are going through a difficult experience, like a death in the family or a personal issue, or if they are dealing with a mental health challenge, like depression or anxiety — it can be challenging to know the best way to help.
It can be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
Don’t give up if you don’t know how to support a loved one. Instead, learn how.
6 Ways to Help a Struggling Loved One
To help you find the words and actions to support a loved one, here are some tips for helping a struggling friend or family member.
#1) Be a good listener.
When someone is going through a difficult time, they often just need someone to listen. Talking about a problem or feeling can help a person process their thoughts and emotions and start to feel incrementally better. To be a good listener:
- Ask questions — but not too many. Don’t interrogate, but ask soft questions if there is a pause or you think the person wants to continue sharing.
- Wait for the other person to finish before you speak. Give someone the space to talk without jumping in at every opportunity or quiet moment.
- Let them know you hear them. Put away your phone. Look at the person when they speak and acknowledge what they are saying by nodding and giving small responses like “oh” and “I see.”
- Don’t try to help immediately. Sometimes people want to share — not receive feedback or advice. Don’t offer advice right away, and ask if they are looking for advice before offering it.
- Keep your conversations private. Don’t let trust dissolve after a conversation by sharing it with others.
#2) Don’t dismiss their feelings and thoughts.
If you want to support a loved one who is struggling, never diminish what they are going through by dismissing their feelings and thoughts. Minimizing what they are going through will likely push them away and can make their feelings worse.
Never say things like:
- Things could be worse.
- You shouldn’t feel [blank].
- You should feel [blank].
- Snap out of it.
- You need to try harder.
- You think you have it bad?
- It’s all in your head.
- You’ll get over it.
#3) Avoid creating an enmeshed relationship.
While it’s important not to minimize what your loved one is going through, it’s also important not to maximize it. When someone is going through a difficult time, we can become emotionally activated by their story or situation and in a way, take it on as our own and make the situation worse.
Enmeshment is a type of relationship that lacks boundaries and results in two people taking on each other’s emotional states. This is not healthy for either party.
To avoid forming an enmeshed relationship, don’t pile your feelings onto your struggling loved one. Also, don’t allow them to pile their feelings onto you. Note that there is a difference between someone going through a difficult time and sharing it with you, and someone who constantly emotionally dumps their emotions and experiences on you in order to keep you bonded. Remember that you have to protect yourself, too.
#4) Offer encouragement and support.
The best way to respond to a loved one who is struggling is by being supportive and encouraging. You likely can’t fix their problems, but you can be by their side and help them along the way. To show support and encouragement, say things like:
- I’m here for you.
- I care about/love you.
- It’s okay to not be okay sometimes.
- Thank you for opening up to me.
- I’m here to listen if/whenever you are ready.
- I know what you are going through is difficult.
- You are stronger than you think.
- All of your feelings are valid. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel.
- You are not alone.
When someone we care about is going through a tough time, we often say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Instead of saying that, go ahead and do something for them. Send flowers. Drop off dinner. Offer to pick up their kids from school. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Offer it when you see they are in need.
Related: How Compassion Keeps You Happy
#5) Know the warning signs of something more serious.
Even if someone is open about the things they are going through, they may be going through more than you realize. To make sure you understand the full situation, educate yourself about what they are experiencing and look for warning signs that it could be something more serious.
Keep an eye out for these warning signs, and seek help if you see them.
- Increased substance abuse
- Dramatic mood swings
- Engaging in risky or dangerous behavior
- Giving away their belongings or prized possessions
- Pushing people away
- Avoiding things they used to enjoy
- Talking frequently about death and dying
#6) Know your limitations, and help them get help.
You are a friend, family member, or loved one. You are not a trained mental health professional, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be.
Understand that some issues may be too big for you to handle on your own. Rather than putting all the pressure on yourself to “fix” your loved one, encourage them to seek help in other places.
Encourage them to talk to a counselor or therapist. Help them find a support group. Share resources like books and articles that might be helpful. And, remind them that seeking help isn’t something to be ashamed of.
Tell them you are proud of them for taking control of their situation by seeking support and help.
Loving Life Is Here to Help
No one should ever feel ashamed or scared or embarrassed for seeking help if they are going through a difficult time.
If you are helping a loved one through a difficult time or going through one yourself, help is available. You and your loved ones deserve to live happy, healthy lives. At Loving Life Today, we’re here to help.
Learn more about how counseling and therapy can help someone who is struggling with life changes, a traumatic experience, and mental challenges such as anxiety, stress, and depression. Download our free information guide to learn more and get $25 off your first in-office or virtual appointment. Or, start your journey to happier and healthier days today. Schedule an intake appointment at Loving Life Today.