Witness their feelings
‘I know that this is a hard time for you, and I know that you’re hurting…'
‘I hear you.. it seems like you’re upset because…'
To start comforting someone, simply describe what you see or feel. Recognising what you witness and by rephrasing what they just told you, you reaffirm them that you hear them. It also helps you to clarify that you are on the same page as them and prevent chances of misinterpreting their situation.
Affirm that their feelings make sense
‘Of course you’re upset, I was honestly upset when … happened to me too.'
To affirm someone else’s feelings, try to use the same emotion word they used at well (e.g. disappointed, heartbroken etc.). Sometimes, past personal experiences allows us to show that we are able to relate. Be careful not to change the focus of the conversation to you. Avoid comparing your past experience with theirs, but focus on the other person’s story.
Draw out their feelings
‘Tell me what happened… how did that make you feel?'
Instead of jumping straight to a proposed solution, it is important to see that your job is not to talk, but to get the other person to talk. By verbalising what and why they are feeling down, can we also better understand their feelings. Avoid asking ‘why' questions, as they might come across as being critical, rather than encourage the other person to better understand their suffering.
Don’t minimise their pain
When the other person bursts into tears, it is natural for us to react with, ‘don’t cry…', ‘you’ll feel better', or ‘cheer up'. However, this is counter-intuitive, and might instead come across as trying to trivialise what the other person is feeling. Instead of brushing their feelings aside or focusing on how they will feel better in the future, show up for them in the present.
Offer physical affection if appropriate
Sometimes, people don’t want to talk and don’t want you to talk either. Perhaps they might not be ready to share, but if it is appropriate, give him/ her a hug. These physical affections should generally match the level of affection you show on a regular basis. If you’ve never hugged this person, then perhaps a hand on their shoulder would suffice, but if the person is your partner, a hug or a snuggle would be appropriate.
Affirm your support and commitment
Letting your friend know that you do care about them and that you’re sorry for what they’re going through is indeed important at that moment.
If you find yourself in the other position where your partner fails to comfort you at the times you need the most, there are some way to elicit emotional comfort from your partner. In other words, we can help them help us.