How to Say "I Care About You" to Someone Who's Struggling
It can be difficult to tell someone who is struggling that we care about them and want to help. Sometimes, they might isolate themselves or put up a wall; other times, we simply don’t know what to say. I’ve been on both sides myself — the person who didn’t know how to communicate her needs and the friend who didn’t know how to help.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a support system made up of people who would both celebrate my wins with me and help me work through my losses. It’s their example that has also taught me how to be a better source of support to others. Here are a few of those lessons I’ve learned about showing your love and support to someone who may be fighting a hard battle.
Offer Your Company
When I think about two of my best and oldest friends, C and K, I’m always taken back to one particularly difficult night that they made 10 times better. I had just been on the wrong end of an emotional confrontation and it left me feeling small and powerless.
I was messaging with C and told her what had happened. She asked me if I felt like having visitors, and an hour later, she and K were at my door, bearing a half-empty bottle of good whiskey from K’s house. I didn’t frequently have the pleasure of seeing these two, so to have them at my doorstep right when I really needed a friend meant a great deal to me. That night, I understood all the more why I’d been friends with them for nearly 20 years.
But the truth is, I would have felt better even if they had just kept texting me. We can’t always come running to someone’s side when they’re having a rough night — and we don’t always have to, either. Sometimes, all they really need is the simple reassurance that there is someone out there who’s willing to keep them company and share some of their burden.
Approach With Kindness and Empathy
We all go through moments when everything feels rough, and we’re hard enough on ourselves that we just need a little bit of kindness from the people we love. My most reassuring conversations with close friends in times of stress and anxiety have always been those where I felt heard and seen.
I’ve found that when people want to help, they often forget to think about what kind of help is actually needed. After all, someone could tell me all the different ways I could get through whatever seemingly insurmountable thing I was worrying about, but it wouldn’t help me address the more immediate issue — dealing with the anxiety that was making this problem seem so insurmountable in the first place.
What’s been more helpful to me is when, instead of making me feel worse by presenting me with solutions that I was too anxious or miserable to try and accomplish, they would listen patiently and ask questions that would eventually guide me toward the right course of action for me. After all, it always helps to try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
Respect Where They’re Coming From
I’ve experienced being so profoundly stuck in life that I’m sure a lot of my loved ones must have been so worried, and maybe even frustrated, while watching me struggle to get up and running again. I remember hating any reminders that I was “wasting time” or “running out of time” — basically anything that reminded me of the passage of time as I stood there, unable to move.
It was a period in my life when I was terrified of taking even the smallest of steps, and I felt very insecure about not being able to move forward. What helped me was being given a safe space by my family and friends to just be, without anyone’s judgment.
They gently nudged me but never pushed too hard. Instead, they celebrated my small wins with me. Instead of trivializing or dismissing my experience, they respected that this was where I was in life at the time, and they made me feel supported as I slowly navigated my way back on track.
Remind Them of Their Strength
I have a tendency to be hard on myself which, when times are tough, only makes things worse. I have some friends who struggle with the same problem, so we’ve developed a habit of reminding each other, “Don’t be mean to my friend.”
My friend A and I are each other’s hype girl. I’ve often texted her while riddled with self-doubt and she will be right there with a knife emoji for my self-defeating thoughts. We call each other “kween,” and it’s often preceded by a “yas” — with a lot of As.
Of course, our friendship is not just about mindlessly cheering each other on. A is one of the most attentive, active listeners I know and one of the most staunchly supportive friends I have. After all the jokes and lighthearted banter, she will remind me of exactly what I am capable of with such conviction that I have no choice but to see it, too.
It isn’t anyone’s responsibility to help another person through a difficult time every step of the way. We have therapists and counselors for a reason. But we also have the capacity to be a friend to someone who may be feeling small, powerless, or stuck, and sometimes, just choosing to try and help is enough to let someone know you care about them.