How To Show Up For Someone Who Is Struggling, Without Minimizing Or Patronizing

Photo: Nzewi Confidence | Canva 
Friend resting hand on shoulder of sad woman

Many people get paralyzed when someone they love is struggling. The instinct is to try to fix them, to make them happy again, and that is not a bad instinct. But it is not an instinct that works in this situation, I am afraid.

The only way to show up for someone who is struggling is to do just that — show up. Let your person know you see they are struggling and you are there for them. If and when they are ready, they know they have someone there for them, someone they can trust not to fix them, someone who will listen.

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Here's how to show up for someone who is struggling (without minimizing or patronizing).

What does this look like, telling someone you are there for them? Let me share three DOs for showing up for your person.

1. “I want you to know I see you are struggling, and I am so sorry you are.”

With this phrase, you are not only telling your person you see them, but also you empathize with them. There is some safety in knowing someone sees you for where you are in the moment and knowing they empathize only raises the trust level.

2. “I don’t want to try to fix you because I know that won’t be helpful, but know I am here for you if and when I can be helpful in any way.”

With this phrase, you tell them they are not alone, and someone has their back if they need them. All they have to do is ask.



3. “Is there anything I can do for you at this moment?”

With this phrase, if they need you, you have given them the safety to tell you. They might say they don’t know. If they do, you can ask them if they want you to make suggestions. If they say yes, go ahead and offer a small thing or two that might be helpful.

You can use one or all of these phrases when you support someone who is struggling. They all let your person know they have someone in their corner who they can trust.

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Now you know what to do, here is what to avoid when you want to support a friend: 

1. Don’t try to fix them.

Many people, particularly men, want to fix someone who they see as sad, usually because they are uncomfortable at the moment as they are feeling helpless in the face of their person's sadness. So, what do they do? They try to do anything they can to fix them.

They remind them of all the good things they have in the world. They give them books about sadness or whatever their person is dealing with. They tell them about the things that worked for them. They buy them gifts. They refuse to leave them alone, even when asked.

I guess you think these are all good things, and they are! But they aren’t good things unless your sad person is open to you doing them. The goal is, if you can show up for them but give them some time and space to come to you, you can employ some of the tactics above to help them manage their emotions.

close supportive couple

Photo: Ana Luzes via Shutterstock

2. Don’t try to talk them out of feeling.

My mother used to try to talk me out of depression. She would remind me of what a lovely childhood I had. I had wonderful kids. I had so many things to look forward to. Depression was all in my head. If I could just be tough enough, I could just get over it. None of those words worked. They made me stop talking to my mom while I worked through things.

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3. Don’t tell them they need to get help.

Yes, maybe your person could use some professional help. (Can’t we all?) But it doesn’t mean they are going to be open to you telling them to do so. Getting professional help for mood issues has a stigma attached. I can’t tell you how many of my clients tell me they don’t believe in therapy or meds.

So, if you suggest to your person they need help, you are just going to push them away. Every person needs to figure out for themselves when/if they are ready for help. Until that time, suggesting they get some will only shut them down.

4. Don’t smother them.

Of course, if you see your person struggling, you want to take care of them. To spend time with them. To hover over them and see what they need. It’s a caregiver instinct many of us have.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want someone around when they are struggling. They want some space to be in their feelings. Of course, it’s not always healthy for them to stay that way too long but hopefully, if you have employed the tactics above, they will be safe enough to tell you when they do want you around.

The key to showing up for someone who is struggling is to be there for them but in an open, relaxed way. Don’t try to fix them or talk them out of their feelings. Sit with them (literally or figuratively) so they know you are there. What many people who struggle need most is someone who is there for them!

You can do this!

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Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be. Mitzi's bylines have appeared in The Good Men Project, MSN, PopSugar, Prevention, Huffington Post, and Psych Central, among many others.