How to Help Someone When They’re Sad

Yet not everyone is receptive to such an approach, because it can feel invalidating, Ms. Sahi said. So first, listen to how they discuss their situation, she said. Researchers have found that people give cues as to what they want based on the words they use. If they focus on their emotions by saying something like, “I feel like they don’t care about me,” they are probably only looking for validation. If, on the other hand, they say that they wish they felt differently, or that they want to know how to solve a problem, then they are “inviting you to help them,” Ms. Sahi explained.

If you think the other person is open to letting you help them strategize, you may still want to start by validating their feelings, Dr. Niven said. Tell them that you understand why they feel the way they do, or that you would have reacted similarly. Studies have found that people are more receptive to advice after they have been made to feel emotionally supported than if they haven’t received any validation at all.

Then, ease into a problem-solving strategy. The participants in Ms. Sahi’s study found an approach called “temporal distancing” most useful. This involves helping people understand that while things may be bad now, they’ll likely improve over time. People preferred this approach over strategies designed to make them feel more optimistic (like “glass half-full” phrasing) or suggestions to try to see the situation from another person’s perspective. It’s unclear why this approach was preferable, but perhaps it was because it didn’t feel confrontational or invalidating, said Dr. Niven, who was not involved with the research.

It may also help to consider how the upset person provided support to you in the past, Ms. Sahi said. Her study found that people who tended to provide problem-solving advice to others also preferred to receive that form of advice when they were upset.

Some problems, though, might need a more serious intervention. Perhaps a friend is in denial about an abusive relationship and you want to help them recognize the gravity of the situation. In circumstances where you might want to challenge someone’s perspective, first explain that your feedback is rooted in how much you care about them, said Jamil Zaki, a social psychologist at Stanford University. “Say, ‘I really want you to feel fulfilled. I want you to feel empowered. And I think that this particular situation you’re in might be going against that goal,’” he said.

Although it can be hard to know how best to help someone, Dr. Zaki emphasized that we should be confident that our attempts will be appreciated — even if we don’t know what we’re doing.

In a small study published in 2022, researchers found that people typically underestimated how useful their attempts to help others would be, perhaps because they feared that their advice wasn’t perfect. Researchers found that people appreciated support even if it wasn’t exactly aligned with their needs.

In other words, what matters most is not that you say the right thing, but that you are present and trying to help. “We can make a difference to other people with relatively little effort,” Dr. Zaki said. “Sometimes just being there is all that you need to do.”

Written by trendingatoz

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