The One Thing You Can Say to Help Someone Who is Hurting

“I’m not a psychologist.”

It’s hard picking just one story, one memory of when someone had said that to me. In a way, it’s a story all on its own.

That story goes something like this: I open up to someone about something difficult from my past or present, like being a survivor of abuse. Maybe there’s an uncomfortable silence on the other end, or a resigned sigh. Then, they say it: “I’m not a psychologist.”

From my experience, people tend to say something to that effect for two reasons: 1) Because they feel like they need to give advice, and can’t think of any, or 2) because they want to emotionally distance themselves from me, and so use that line to close up. Often it’s for both reasons at the same time

I can understand the first reason; it’s not always easy to find the right words for someone who’s hurting. But the second reason … it’s hard not to feel hurt when I can tell (and I can tell) that they’re distancing themselves from me.

Thing is, when I approach someone who’s not my therapist with heartache, I already know they’re “not a psychologist.” In those moments, I’m not looking for therapy or advice; I’m looking for someone to love me when I feel unlovable.

I remember telling a friend a particularly bad part of my abuse, and he went quiet for a moment. I braced myself for those four words … but they didn’t come. Instead, he said, “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry.” Simple, honest, and heartfelt; he said so much more in that moment than all the good advice in the world.

Here’s what I wished more people knew: You don’t need to have all the right words to say to help someone you care about who’s hurting. Sometimes all I need is something like, “That’s awful; I’m sorry.” Sometimes all I need is a hug. Sometimes it’s an invite to dinner, or a little text that reminds me someone cares.

If you want to offer more, great. But it’s OK if you can’t. And sometimes the best thing you can offer is to simply be there.



Editor’s Note: For 24/7 support for you or a loved one, please contact Crisis Text Line 

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