⭐ 5 tips for comforting a heartbroken friend
The past few weeks post-breakup have been especially difficult for me, since I've lost not only my lover but also my best friend. My friends have supported me in various ways, and I've thought at length about what they've done to help me feel better and compiled my reflections in this personal manual. I hope it can be of some use to you.
1. Reach out.
After breakups I feel especially lonely. Because I'm so miserable I feel like a burden to others and as a result struggle to reach out to people at a time when I need them most. So please reach out early and often, even if you don't know what to say or do. Don't worry about finding the perfect thing to say, because the truth is nothing you say can make the pain go away anyway. The intention to help is what counts. Just being there for us and listening to us openly means the world.
There's no one correct way to reach out. Some of my best friends have texted me regularly for the past month just to check up on me. Others call me, write me emails, or send me postcards. Even if these gestures might not feel like much, just knowing that someone else is thinking of us helps keep us going when every day is a struggle.
As a friend of mine puts it more poetically,
in a lot of ways, grieving the ends of things, it is just sad. there is nothing someone that can say that will take the pain away, much as we all might wish it, and there isn't really much that one can do to speed up the process, either.
however, i think there is, as you note, value in the reaching out. in the moment of feeling: someone sees that i am hurting, and has reached out, perhaps with inartful words, perhaps with words that feel like a balm. in part, i think it is... bracketing for a moment the breathtakingly cruel idea of someone reaching out, at a vulnerable moment, to callously further wound, i think it is also a reminder that we stumble through these things, each in our own time, and that recognizing this, there is a moment when i recognize your struggle from mine, and i choose not to remain indifferent to it.
there is a fear, i think, of not knowing the right thing to say, that prevents a lot of people from speaking, and a fear perhaps of saying the wrong or clumsy or inapposite thing. i have come to believe that trying is the thing — that if you try not to make it about yourself (as the person reaching out), that part of what one fears, in a position of grief, is the indifference of others. of being seen through, perhaps.
2. Ask how you can help.
Not everyone wants to be treated the same way; don't assume that what works for you will work for everyone else. Talking about their emotions makes some people feel better (myself included), but others might want to take their mind off things. I've found that it's best to ask if we want to talk about what happened or how we feel, then respect those wishes. People will tell and show you how they want to be treated if you let them.
3. Make time for us.
Just about everybody I mention my breakup to generously offers to listen to my struggles. But it's rarer to see someone demonstrate a commitment to making these conversations happen. To me, this willingness to carve out time to be with us is far more important than the empty promise, because that's what shows us you really care.
4. Avoid toxic positivity.
I myself have had to unlearn many toxically positive thoughts over the years. Toxic positivity might look harmless, but often it leaves us feeling even worse.
Please don't say things like "good vibes only", "stay positive", or "there are plenty of fish in the sea". We know you mean well, but hearing these things isn't comforting. Grief is a natural response to difficult events and overcoming it isn't simply a matter of dismissing negative thoughts and emotions.
I presume I'm not alone in finding it nearly impossible to call out toxic positivity when I spot it, because I fear I'll come off as ungrateful. So please try your best to avoid it and educate others about it when you can.
5. Be gentle with your advice.
Some of my friends repeatedly tell me that I need to find a therapist when I go to them for help. This makes feel like they're tired of listening to me. Instead, if you have a suggestion, you can frame it more gently ("Have you thought about going to therapy?") and leave it at that. I know talking to a therapist will probably help me, and I swear I'm trying to find one, but I'm telling you these things because I entrust you to receive my vulnerability gracefully. I try my best not to trauma dump but sometimes we all need someone to confide in.