How To Comfort Someone Who Is Sad Or Crying (+ How NOT To)

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Have you ever wanted to comfort a sad person, and found yourself stumbling for words?

It’s an awkward feeling to want to reach out to comfort someone but not know what the right words are and how to helpfully communicate.

After all, you don’t want to make the situation worse by saying the wrong thing. Right?

The good news is that there really aren’t too many wrong things that you can say when trying to comfort a sad person.

People can generally identify when someone is trying to be kind or supportive to them regardless of the words they are using to communicate with.

In all likelihood, they have probably had an experience of awkwardness in their own desire to help someone who was going through something difficult.

What you say is less important than just being present for the person.

Your presence and willingness to be with them in their sadness communicates much more than words really can.

But that doesn’t mean that you need to walk into that situation without any words in mind.

There are some simple phrases you can use when trying to comfort someone and make them feel better.

“I see you’re upset. Do you want to talk about it?”

The hardest part for many people is getting the conversation started. This is a simple way.

You can start the conversation by simply asking if the person wants to talk about their problem.

They may not – and that’s okay! They may need time to work through their issue themselves.

They may also not be in the right mental space to be open and vulnerable about whatever may be causing their distress.

This is also an excellent way to open a conversation if you want to approach a stranger or someone you don’t know well who appears to be in distress.

Just include an introduction:

“Hey there. I’m Jack. I can see that you’re upset. Do you want to talk about it?”

Don’t insist that the person open up or talk if they don’t want to. Just let them know that you are present and there for them if they change their mind.

“I’m here for you if you need me.”

Sadness can be lonely and isolating. It’s easy to feel like other people can’t relate to a pain we might be experiencing, even if we know that the other person has experienced similar pain.

You may feel like you’re demonstrating that you’re ready and willing to be there for your loved one, but saying it out loud is a solid confirmation that you understand they are going through tough times, and you want to be there for them through their pain.

And then follow that statement up by actually being there.

People tend to forget that pain and sadness don’t end the moment a person stops crying.

Being there for your loved one may entail checking in on them days later to ensure they are still receiving the kind of support that they need to get through their pain.

“How are you feeling?”

This is an essential question because sadness and other negative feelings may not be the only emotions present.

By asking how the person is feeling, you’re allowing them to air out their other feelings that you can then validate and support.

As an example – let’s say a friend’s mother had a terminal illness.

They’ve been a caregiver for the past few years, taking them to doctor’s appointments, watching them go through the ugliest aspects of a chronic illness that would eventually take their life.

The mother passes away, and you find yourself trying to be supportive of that friend.

That friend will likely be sad, but they may also have other feelings about the situation as well.

They may not even be all that sad, because they’ve already grieved the loss of their mother while she was still alive.

A person in that situation may feel relief that their mother is no longer suffering because of her illness.

That relief is a valid feeling too, but one that can get overlooked while everyone else is coping with the immediate loss.

They may feel guilty for feeling relief about their mother’s death, because what kind of person would feel relief at their mother dying?

The answer is quite a few people because grief is not often simple. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to feel relief that their mother is no longer suffering.

So, don’t assume you know precisely what someone is feeling. Ask them, and whatever their response, don’t judge them for it.

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Actively listen.

The most important part of providing comfort to another person is your ability to actively listen to what they have to say.

Whatever phrases you use, whether it’s the ones we’ve talked about here or your own approach, they aren’t as important as your ability to listen.

Active listening is a skill in which you are demonstrating that the person you are listening to is valid, important, and worth hearing.

These are affirmations that sometimes need to be made when a person isn’t in a positive mental space.

The best way to actively listen is to eliminate other distractions that might cause the person to think that you aren’t paying attention.

Turn off the television, pause the movie, ignore your cell phone while you are talking to the person.

You can always come back to these things later. Be present with them in their trying moment.

You can further demonstrate active listening by confirming what the other person said in your own words.

This is also helpful for clarity if the person is having a hard time communicating whatever is troubling them.

Bouts of silences are normal while the person is crying or thinking.

It’s okay to look around at your surroundings in quiet moments. It offers the other person a private moment rather than awkwardly looking at each other.

Understand that you don’t need to have answers.

In trying to comfort someone, you may feel an internal pressure to try to resolve their sadness.

After all, you don’t want to see someone suffering any more than they have to.

However, many of the pains of life are just too large to neatly resolve in a single conversation. Some problems just don’t have an easy answer.

Sometimes a person may need to go to therapy or just need more time to really work through whatever is troubling them.

That shouldn’t stop you from trying to comfort someone who appears in distress. Just understand that they may ask rhetorical questions that they know have no answers while talking to you.

They’re just voicing their frustration and pain aloud to communicate with you and better process it. Let them and don’t give in to the pressure to respond.

You can say something like, “I have no good answer to that, but I do hear what you’re saying.”

Don’t try to minimize a negative situation or force it to be positive.

A common strategy that people try to employ is to try to find the silver lining in the gray clouds of a bad situation.

This is rarely a good idea.

The problem is that not every situation has a silver lining. It can be insulting or demeaning to have their pain diminished in that way.

From the previous example, a friend’s mother dying from a chronic illness is just negative all around. Let it be negative.

It may be tempting to say things like, “At least she’s not suffering now.” or “I’m sure she’s in a better place.”

But these aren’t comforting messages. They’re messages that minimize and try to shift a massive emotional load in a way that isn’t going to help that friend.

Far better to say something like, “I’m sorry about your mom. I know that there aren’t any words that can make you feel better. Just know that I’m here with you as much as I can be.”

And just let the person feel whatever it is they need to feel instead of trying to offer a superficial fix for the pain.

Don’t be surprised at unexpected emotional reactions.

In trying to comfort another person, do understand that their emotions may not be what you expect them to be.

Even if you say all of the best and right things to try to comfort another person, they may respond with anger or shortness.

They may find those kinds of statements insensitive, or you may accidentally trigger something painful for them that causes an unpredictable reaction.

Don’t take these things personally. Don’t let yourself get frustrated or angry with the person. Just be cool and let the situation continue on how it needs to continue on.

Patience will carry you through the situation and give the person the room they need to process their emotions.

Remember: your presence is more important than any exceptional combinations of words.

Do check in with the person in the future if you are able. It’ll let them know that they are cared for and have someone willing to be there for them in their difficult time.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.