Supporting someone in pain can be challenging. It’s difficult to know just what to say or do in hard moments. While filling a supportive role may feel awkward, and even difficult, there are ways to better your approach. Your goal is to comfort a friend or loved one, not solve their problems. It’s your very presence and thoughtfulness that can change their perspective.
The first step to supporting someone in pain is understand the source of their anguish. Is your loved one facing physical or emotional pain? Research tells us “when people feel emotional pain, the same areas of the brain get activated as when people feel physical pain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex.” While the brain may react very similar to the sources of pain, how you offer support will vary.
Support Someone With Emotional Pain
Know that your role as a best friend, partner, mother, or otherwise is not to fix the problem. The most natural thing to want to do for a loved one is making the pain stop. We think by “fixing” the problem, the pain goes away, but that’s not how emotional pain works.
The person you’re supporting likely isn’t ready for a remedy. Our ability to manage pain and turn it into a motivator or something positive, requires that we feel pain. It’s actually not helpful to try and solve the problem. Part of healing is learning to tolerate and manage pain. So, stop trying to fix, and just sit.
Literally. Be with your loved one. Wait for the moment when they are ready to speak, and then, just sit. Listen, make eye contact, and allow your body language to show you’re engaged. Show love and compassion in just being. When you sit in the pain, as uncomfortable as it may be, you’re expressing empathy without trying to change it.
When you’re miles away and can’t be there to offer a physical shoulder to cry on, incorporate technology. It’s important to ask first, but call or Facetime to check on your loved one if they’re ready to talk. You can also send your love through a heartfelt gift. Show support with a giftset designed for those facing grief or loss. Words can fail us, but a sincere gift will show how much you care.
Support Someone With Physical Pain
Physical pain may stem from a chronic illness, cancer treatments, or a severe accident. No matter the cause, your goal is to keep your loved one’s spirits up to take their mind away from the pain as much as possible.
If your loved one is up for it, try sitting with them through a game of cards, read to them, or simply listen if they’re ready to talk. Those battling chronic pain are roughly three times as likely to fall into depression, so staying off the topic of their level of pain is essential.
Even if you’re loved one isn’t ready to talk or the pain is too severe for the concentration of a conversation, support them by helping with daily tasks. Cook them a meal, wash laundry, mow the lawn, empty the trash, or complete other chores as needed. Providing a clean, welcoming space will help lift your loved one’s spirits.
Supporting someone through emotional or physical pain doesn’t require you to solve their problem or even offer life-changing advice. Be an active listener, offer a heartfelt gift, and take on daily responsibilities to show your love and support.