How do you comfort someone who is hurting?
Maybe they lost a loved one recently and unexpectedly.
Or perhaps they’re going through a painful transition.
The thing is, you’re at a loss.
You don’t know what to say when someone is sad.
Even when comforting a friend or family member, you feel useless.
What if your silent presence isn’t enough?
What Should I Say to Comfort Someone?
You want to know how to comfort people—especially those closest to you—but you struggle to find the right words or know just what they need from you. You’re not alone in that.
Each person’s grief process is unique to them.
That said, some of these shared traits can help point you in the right direction:
- Those who are suffering generally do not want your pity or platitudes;
- They may not feel comfortable telling you what they need or want from you;
- They need space and time to process their pain, but they also need to know someone is there for them.
How to Comfort Someone: 25 Caring and Reassuring Actions
If you’re still wondering about the best things to say to comfort someone, you’ll find some valuable ideas in the list below. You’ll also learn more about what not to do or say.
The most helpful words and actions may not be what you expect, which is why good listening skills are so essential.
Be willing to find out you were wrong, so you can learn how to do better.
1. Be there to acknowledge their pain and honor it.
You’re not there to question their sadness or try to show them it’s all in their head – as if that makes it less real. You’re there to acknowledge their sadness and honor it with genuine empathy and compassion.
2. Listen without trying to fix them.
Never try to minimize their pain or make light of what they’ve been through. And don’t try to cheer them up to make yourself feel better. They’re not someone for you to fix. You don’t get points for getting them to smile. Just listen.
3. Validate what they’re feeling.
Even if you can’t feel it yourself, you can at least see why your friend is suffering, and you want them to know, without a doubt, that they’re allowed to feel the way they do—that their feelings make sense. They do.
4. Try to understand what they’re feeling.
You’re not a mind-reader, so don’t expect yourself always to know what your friend is feeling or why no matter how well you know them. The important thing is that you try to understand them better.
5. Encourage them to talk more about it (if they want to).
Don’t force them to tell you more, but be ready to listen with compassion and understanding if they want to process what they’re feeling out loud.
6. Don’t take anything they say personally.
Even if some of what they say is objectively true, what they’re saying has more to do with their process and perspective than with you.
So, however tempting it might be to jump in and defend yourself, don’t do it.
7. If appropriate (and acceptable), offer physical affection.
Maybe you know this person loves hugs but likes to be asked first. Honestly, it’s always a good policy to ask before hugging someone unless they’ve already asked you for a hug. Always respect their boundaries.
8. Remind them of your unconditional support and commitment.
Show them unconditional love with your words and with your actions. Send them messages to check on them. Ask if they’re open to a visit. Send a care package. Do what you can to remind them what they are to you.
9. Withhold your opinions.
They don’t really need to know how you feel about politics, the weather, the neighbor’s lawn, or anything else. Unless they ask you for pointless small talk, keep your focus on them and spend more time listening than talking.
10. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
If your friend asks you for helpful ideas on what to do next, don’t get caught up in trying to find something that will eclipse their sadness or make them feel better. You can’t control what they feel. So, don’t try.
11. Avoid platitudes and exhortations.
Someone who’s hurting doesn’t need or want to be told that whoever they lost is “in a better place” and that they should feel happy for them. Let them grieve in their own way, and don’t presume to tell them where their deceased has gone. You don’t know.
12. If you get a chance to say, “Goodbye,” take it.
When someone you know is dying, and you get a chance to visit them on their deathbed, don’t assume they’d prefer not to be seen in their current state. Visit them and let them know you love them.
13. If asked, be open and honest about what you’re feeling.
Be honest if, for the moment, you’re feeling numb or you’re not sure exactly what you’re feeling. Don’t try so hard to be strong for the other person that you leave them feeling even more alone in their grief.
14. Don’t try to be the one most affected by your friend’s pain.
This isn’t a competition. You serve no one by trying to stand out as the one who’s suffering is second only to the one you’re trying to comfort. Your authentic presence will do them more good than drama.
15. If asked, offer a brief and honest tribute to the deceased.
It doesn’t have to sound inspired or poetic. Put yourself in the shoes of those hurting the most from this person’s loss, and be kind. Consider your audience, and filter accordingly.
16. Gently encourage some self-care.
Encourage your friend to prioritize self-care — to take a bath, if they want one, or to take a walk (alone or with company), watch a movie, etc. Be a willing participant in their self-care if they want some company.
17. Respect their process—and the way they want to be comforted.
Don’t presume to know how your friend wants to be comforted. And don’t try to rush them through the grieving process. Let them take all the time they need.
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18. Give them space—but don’t abandon them.
It’s possible to give your friend the space they need without ghosting them. If they don’t want visitors, you can still call or text them. You can also send flowers or an e-gift card as a treat.
19. Take care of yourself, too.
You wouldn’t expect your friend to sacrifice their self-care if you were the one in pain, so please don’t do that to yourself. It only makes you less able to be there for them.
20. Show them how much you care.
Stop by with a meal, or, if that’s not an option, call ahead and have something delivered to them (with the tip already covered). Make it easy for them to simply receive the gift and enjoy it without needing to entertain anyone else.
21. Offer your (obligation-free) company.
If they’re open to it, keep them company for a while in a way that doesn’t impose on them to entertain you. It’s 100% okay if all you do is read your own books together quietly in the same room.
22. Offer a healing distraction.
Sometimes, when your friend is hurting, they may just want you to distract them with something that will make them laugh or get them involved in something productive.
You can cooperate with that and still be ready to comfort them when they need it.
23. Write them a letter.
If your friend doesn’t want visitors, or if you can’t be there physically, write them a letter to let them know how important they are to you. Be authentic with your words. Tell them what you’d want to say in person if you could.
24. Don’t presume to tell them what they need to do.
Don’t assume you know what your friend needs to do to “get over” their pain and feel happy again. Your friend doesn’t need you to make assumptions about why they’re sad, in pain, or depressed or what they should do about it.
25. Be ready to help however you can.
If you’re listening to them and really paying attention to what they’re saying and not saying out loud, it’s much easier to get a sense of what they need. Depending on your situation, you can then express readiness to do what you can.
How Do You Comfort Someone Over Text?
Many of the above apply beautifully to situations where you can be physically present for your friend.
But we can hear you asking, “How do I comfort a friend if I can’t be there to hug them and spend time with them? What if my only link to them is my phone?”
We include the following tips just for you:
- Call if you can (and if they prefer talking to texting);
- Send a caring message, even if you’re struggling to find the right words;
- Be honest about your difficulty knowing what to say;
- Make the message about them (not you);
- Make every word count (no pointless or self-serving rants or sermons);
- Offer your sincere condolences;
- Offer your help with anything they might need or appreciate.
Hard as it is to know your friend is hurting when you can’t visit them, you can still bring them some comfort by calling or texting—without obligating them to reply.
Just be there however you can be.
Now that you know 25 ways to comfort someone who’s hurting, which of these tips stood out for you? And who in your life comes to mind?
You don’t have to break new ground with the way you bring comfort to others. Originality is overrated. Focus on being there for your friend however you can—even if you can only be there from a distance.
What will you do today to show your friend some love?