Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

[Learning Grace] How to Be Supportive

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My apologies for my silence. I took an unplanned break from blogging during Thanksgiving week (and a little after), spending some much-needed quality time with my family and my boyfriend, who was visiting from Chicago for Thanksgiving. 

 I’m really excited to jump back in and start the Learning Grace series again. We’ll be tackling a wide range of issues, including depression, eating disorders, same-sex attraction, and more. Perhaps what I’m most excited about is hearing from others. If you’d like to contribute a guest post, e-mail me at

I’ve never considered myself a particularly sensitive person.

I’m an ESTJ who loves efficiency–not exactly the personality type of someone you would consider sympathetic toward people. And most of the time, I’m not. I find it very easy to get frustrated with others.

So I find it ironic that God has placed many people in my life that I’ve had to slow down and listen to. In high school, I had a friend who confessed that she was cutting herself. In college, I had a roommate who had serious health issues. And these just scratch the surface of my experiences.

In each situation, I was totally clueless about how to best support these people. It was purely by the grace of God that I didn’t do or say anything insensitive and hurtful (at least, not enough to end any friendships!). I still feel clueless a lot of the time, but I’ve noticed a few things that seem to be pretty consistent whenever trying to be supportive.

So, to get the ball rolling on this series, here are five principles I think apply to being sensitive in any situation. Anything you would add?

1. Listen

Let them talk if they want to, but don’t force them to do so. If they want to, listen attentively. Don’t interrupt, except perhaps to ask clarifying questions. Don’t be on your phone texting someone else while they’re talking. Give them your undivided attention. Absorb what they’re saying. Don’t just hear them–really think about what they’re saying.

2. Don’t assume

Even if you’ve been through something similar, don’t assume you understand what they’re going through or what they’re feeling. Don’t try to explain their situation, or offer solutions. For example, if a roommate has an eating disorder, don’t assume it’s because she has a poor body image. If a friend is suffering with depression, don’t tell them they need to pray more. Unless you’re a professional counselor or a doctor, you most likely can’t offer them a solution, or even a diagnosis. And your attempts to help may actually do more harm than good.

3. Ask questions

Always be careful not to ask questions that are too personal and inappropriate, but do ask questions to try and understand what someone is going through. For example, “How does that make you feel?” or “How can I be supportive?” are good questions.

4. Stay with them

Let them cry on your shoulder. Listen when they need someone to listen. Invite them over for dinner, or out to coffee. Continue to involve them in your life and be a friend to them. Many people going through difficult times or struggling with difficult issues find that others abandon them when they open up. Be someone they can count on to stick around.

5. Seek help

If you or a friend is in any danger, get help. If you’re in high school or younger, tell your parents or a trusted adult, call a hotline, or call 911 if someone is in immediate danger. If you’re an adult, see a counselor, encourage your friend to see a counselor, or call a hotline for help (or 911 if someone is in immediate danger). There are some things that you should never try to handle on your own, such as suicide, self-injury, and eating disorders. While you can never force a friend to get help, you can encourage them to do so and seek support for yourself.

Below are some important hotline numbers to know:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE

National Self-Injury Hotline: 1-800-DONT-CUT

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 866-331-9474

National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453

National Eating Disorders Hotline: 847-831-3438

What would you add to this list? What do you think is important for people trying to be sensitive and supportive to others?


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