Watching someone you care about suffer from grief and emotional pain is difficult.  We generally avoid speaking about grief so when it arrives, we can find ourselves at a loss as to how to help.

How do I help? Offering permission to the person hurting, to feel as they do, is an important starting point. Our desire to make things better, or to smother the hurt doesn’t work with emotional pain. This is a time where the person who is hurting needs to feel like they are free to feel as they do.

This is uncomfortable A typical first reaction to seeing someone in emotional pain is to try to help by making things somehow “better”. When we can’t find a way to ease the suffering, we can fall into the trap of saying things that aren’t helpful.

Disconnection This is where the harmful cycle of disconnection begins. The person hurting needs one thing, and those who are close to the person grieving are uncomfortable offering them that very thing. PERMISSION

Let them feel–keep it real If you offer anything to someone who is sad, let it be permission to feel as they do. Try hard to save the empty words and to avoid the awkwardness you may feel. If you can, risk and let the grieving person know you don’t always know what to say but you want to stay close and be helpful.

Permission offers hope Once you receive permission for your feelings, you will have a pathway to express yourself. There is such a profound sense of relief that comes with the words “please do as you need to, I’m not going anywhere.”

A few words of permission begin an acceptance that previously did not exist.

Madeline’s story was familiar.

“Am I going crazy? I don’t eat and I don’t sleep much. I walk around all night; I have no interest in anything. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t care if I live or die. Even getting up is difficult. I am useless and lost. I don’t know who I am, where to go or what to do and I don’t much care about anything.

I yell and scream and wish I were dead. I cry at times for “no reason”, roll myself up in a ball and gag at the thought of life. I’m a lost cause. My friends and family tell me I’m going crazy.”

No Madeline, you’re not crazy. You have been ravaged by hurt and sadness. Your reactions are expected.

  • Watching someone you care about struggle with emotional hurt is difficult.
  • Don’t try to make painful emotional events “better”.
  • Let people who hurt feel what they do.
  • Some things don’t have a quick fix.
  • Emotional hurt needs to be worked through over an extended period.

John D. Martin is the author of I Can’t Stop Crying, Grief and Recovery a Compassionate Guide and Help Me I Hurt. You can find John at and on Youtube

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