How To Help Someone Who Is Struggling

article Jun 18, 2021

We love our family. We love our friends, and when they need us we would always like to believe that we could be there for them.

But... what does that mean?

What does that look like?

We often want to tell people what we think they should do, fix them, take their pain away or find something for them to feel positive about.

But… does that help someone who is struggling?

Here are some approaches that I have found successful in the past.


Holding space for them 

Holding space for someone who comes to you for help means, Sitting with them during a moment where they feel as if they are unable to cope. The objective here is simply that, let them know that you are there with them and for them. Not trying to give your opinion, advice, sympathy or trying to fix anything, just being there.


Trying not to ask them why

Asking someone why they feel the way they do is often not very helpful. A great deal of the time, people do not know why or understand their emotional reaction to a situation. When forced to answer why they will very often find ways to further blame themselves and take responsibility. This can leave a person feeling deep shame and ultimately could make someone feel worse about themselves.


Choosing empathy vs sympathy

The difference between these two is very subtle, but the effect can be massive. Empathy shows someone that you understand or often resonate with them in sharing their feelings or experience. Sympathy is similar and is often confused with empathy, however, sympathy is mostly received as a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone and could leave a person feeling useless and hopeless. This is obviously not the intention but is the difference between “I understand you” and “I feel sorry for you”.  


Try not to tell them what you think they should do

Instead, consider asking questions to help them find their own way forward. Everyone, no matter how close or similar they are, will have slightly different values and beliefs. Those values and beliefs act as a moral compass. If you tell someone what to do, there are two risks. They may end up taking an action that would be right for them, but not right for them. Also, unless someone comes to a conclusion themselves they are unlikely to commit to it and see through to the end as their motivation for taking that action is not true to their values and beliefs.


Encourage them to stay in the present

It’s often said that dwelling on the past can nurture depression and worrying about the future can spawn anxiety. The truth is depression can be born from worrying about something that has happened that can not be changed or worrying about something that has not happened and may not happen. If you encourage someone to stay present they may slowly realise that at that moment they are safe, loved and worthy.