How To Actually Comfort Someone You Love, From Therapists
Whether you have a friend going through a breakup, grieving a loss, or simply feeling down on their luck, we all need a helping hand of support and comfort once in while. Nonetheless, sometimes you might feel awkward or uncertain around what to do, which is why we asked therapists for their best advice on how to really comfort someone—including if you're the one who hurt them.
Here's what to know.
9 effective ways to comfort someone:
Ask them what you can do for them.
The question of how to comfort someone can usually be answered by the person you're trying to comfort themselves. And in fact, according to somatic therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., it's a good idea to ask, because everyone finds comfort in different things.
"The first step is to stay curious and ask how someone is feeling and make sure they are open to being comforted," she explains, adding that some people use co-regulation to soothe themselves, whereas others prefer to regulate on their own without the presence of others.
From there, you can ask about what might feel best.
And as certified couples' therapist Alicia Muñoz, LPC, previously told mindbodygreen, you want to approach the conversation delicately and sensitively as well. Open with phrases like, "'I've been thinking about you and wondering how you are,' 'I care about you and want to be here for you,' and 'Is there any special way I can support you right now that I might not be aware of?'" she suggests.
Be a safe place for them to land.
Sometimes all we really need from a friend is knowing that they're there for us no matter what. According to licensed psychotherapist Sola Togun-Butler, Ph.D., LCSW, "It is important to create a safe space for a friend to express their feelings." She defines a "safe space" as a communication environment that is "kind, empathetic, and nonjudgmental." When you can do this, she previously told mindbodygreen, your friend will feel safe to talk about how they are feeling without the fear of judgment or invalidation.
Try something somatic based, like walking.
As Richmond notes, some people will find more comfort and soothing in somatic, body-based practices like walking, doing yoga, or going for a hike. Any of these would be great options to suggest to your friend to help them get out of their head and into their body. And when it comes to somatic practices, you don't have to use words; you can just ask them if they want to take a quiet stroll with you. (Some people may even prefer a chance to move their body and not have to speak.)
Simply be a comforting presence.
And speaking of not using words, again, sometimes this is preferred. As Richmond tells mindbodygreen, "Simply sitting next to someone without talking, just being a warm and compassionate presence," can be comforting.
Be patient and understanding.
Everyone is going to come around in their own time at their own pace, so try to be patient and understanding. As sex and love educator Jayda Shuavarnnasri, previously told mindbodygreen, "Try not to pass judgment on how a person chooses to heal," adding that if your friend engages in behaviors that are destructive, "be the compassionate friend who can lovingly support them to behave in ways that are more aligned to their values."
Send them encouraging texts.
We've all got phones, and that means sending a quick text is one of the easiest ways to let a friend know you're sending them comforting vibes. "When it comes to supporting someone through text," Shuavarnnasri explains, "I would lean toward words of affirmation and continuing to remind the person that the pain they're feeling is totally normal." Treat these texts like a sounding board, letting them know their feelings are valid and that they're not alone.
(Here are a bunch of things to say instead of "sorry for your loss," by the way.)
Validate them & make them feel understood.
Validation is key when comforting a loved one. We all want to feel like we are seen and understood, and offering that to a friend in need is powerful. Practice active listening, and back up all the things they're telling you.
According to Bruneau, "The most important component of active listening is empathy: a nonjudgmental verbal acknowledgment of one's feelings." You can do this with phrases like, "It sounds like you're feeling [insert appropriate feeling] because [reason they might be feeling that way]," which opens up the door for them to give their take, Bruneau explains.
Do some favors for them, big or small.
When someone is in need of comforting, there's a good chance they need help with other things too, whether it's grocery shopping, cooking for themselves, or other forms of self-care. You could treat them on a trip to their favorite coffee shop, bring over their go-to home-cooked meal, or offer to help them clean up around the house. Whatever it is, it's a tremendous comfort to have even the slightest burden lifted from your shoulders when you're in need of support.
Don't give unsolicited advice or try to force them to cheer up.
Last but not least, when we're comforting someone, we want to focus on them and validate their feelings—not force our own view on them. As such, try to avoid giving advice or words of wisdom, even if you think you have the answers. Your friend will likely just feel patronized, and that's not comforting.
Helpful things to say to comfort someone:
- This must be so hard for you.
- I can't begin to imagine what you're going through.
- I'm so sorry. I wish there was something I could do.
- Do you want to talk about it?
- It's OK to cry and be sad—this is sad.
- We don't have to talk; I'm happy to just sit here with you.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- Can I bring you over a meal?
- You are still a wonderful person no matter what.
- I'm keeping you in my thoughts as you're going through this.
- How are you doing?
- What do you need most right now?
- Take as long as you need.
- Life isn't fair, and you're handling this beautifully.
- What you're saying and feeling are completely understandable.
- I can see your struggle and how much effort you're giving.
- I have so much faith in your strength and resilience.
- Everything you're feeling makes a lot of sense.
- I am here for anything you need.
(We have a full guide to writing condolence messages, too.)
If you've hurt them.
Knowing how to apologize correctly is the first step. In this case, according to clinical psychologist Houyuan Luo, Ph.D., you'll want to directly express your apology without sugarcoating it or defending your own behavior, and clearly communicate how you hurt them. Be genuine and earnest that you are sorry.
"Acknowledge the negative effect of your action on the person, particularly the emotional impact," Luo says. Good intentions don't justify the negative impact, he reminds.
From there, should the apology be accepted, you may still have reparations to make and will need to follow your apology with aligned action. As licensed mental health counselor Chautè Thompson, LMHC, previously told mindbodygreen, "Be sure to explain in what ways you plan to improve and/or what you will do to prevent this type of offense from happening again. This is what it means to truly make amends."
And of course, if you say you're going to do something, be sure to actually do it. "Allow space, grace, and time for the relationship to grow back to where it was and hopefully beyond," Thompson adds.
What should I say to comfort someone over text?
When comforting someone over text, focus on being a sounding board for them, validating their feelings, and making sure they know they are not alone.
How do you comfort someone who is crying?
If someone is crying and you aren't sure how to comfort them, sometimes words aren't necessary. Your presence can be comforting in and of itself, and this would be a good time to lean on somatic practices like walking, embracing them, or doing a favor for them like doing their dishes or making them dinner.
Some people will feel comforted when they can vent to you, some may just need to cry it out, and some won't want any words spoken at all. The biggest thing to remember when comforting someone who needs it is to figure out how you can best support them, validating the way they're feeling, and letting them know you are always there for them.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.