mental health

How to Support a Loved One Who is Hurting

Imagine this: Your friend has just been dumped by her long-term significant other. She comes to you with an outpouring of tears and in a state of despair. In that moment, all you want is for her to feel better, so you reassure her that everything will be okay and give her a pep talk that she’ll find someone better and deserving of her love.

Or maybe this: A coworker shows up to work and is not his usual cheerful and chatty self. He is visibly distracted and when you ask him what’s wrong, he explains that his mom has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness with only a few months left to live. You observe that he looks numb and disengaged, and it starts to feel uncomfortable. You offer a story of when your family faced an illness, and how everyone bonded and grew closer together through it.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Let me tell you why this doesn’t work

The Superpower of Compassionate Self-Talk

Our inner dialogue reflects our deepest vulnerability. It holds so much power over how we view and treat ourselves and how we are able to engage with the world. As a therapist, it’s common for me to hear statements such as “I’m so stupid”, “I’m useless”, “I am the biggest failure in the world”, “I don’t deserve anything good to happen to me”.

These words are deeply painful and defeating. We would never say these statements to anyone we care about, even to strangers, but allow this to be a familiar repertoire of self-talk. Why do we do this?