Near the end of the film version of the “Wizard of Oz” starring Judy Garland, the Great and Powerful Oz grants the wish of the Tin Man for a heart. In doing so, he observes that the problem with hearts is that they can be broken.
While actual physical breakage to the human heart as the result of an emotional upset is rare, the feeling is familiar to most people. When we suffer from the consequences of an emotional upset or trauma we feel as though our hearts are breaking. While we are feeling it, it is difficult to imagine it passing and our friends and loved ones often wonder what to do and how to help.
Here are a few useful tips and a few things to avoid doing to guide you through helping to nurse the broken heart of a friend.
A few important things you can do that are apt to help:
1. Make your primary intervention to be that of actively listening. People whose hearts are hurting are not easy to cheer up and, for the most part, that is not what they really want or need. They need, firstly, to be heard by someone who cares enough about them to be able and willing to tolerate their unhappiness and pain.
2. Acknowledge the pain that the person is going through and assure them that you are their friend no matter how badly they feel and that you are there for them.
3. If the person has withdrawn socially, offer to go for a walk with them or take them out for lunch. Backing one’s self into an isolated hole tends to prolong the pain of acute heartbreak and contributes to the risk of the episode developing into a depression.
4. If you feel honestly moved to, crying with your friend over their pain will not make it worse.
A few things to try to avoid the understandable temptation to do:
1. Do not try to cheer someone out of their pain by telling them jokes or assuring them, in the event that the broken heart was caused by a relationship break-up, that “there are plenty of other fish in the sea.” The message such efforts convey to the person who is suffering is that their friend cannot tolerate their pain and they will be less likely to entrust you with their hurt feelings subsequently.
2. Resist the temptation to respond to their story by telling similar ones of your own. To be of help to them, it is best to leave the focus on them and not to try to distract, reassure or comfort them by reminding them that you have had a similar experience.
3. Don’t avoid your friend. Although it can be difficult to sit with someone who is in pain, the simple physical presence of someone who cares can be a great source of support in and of itself. Persuading yourself to leave your friend alone until they are feeling better may not be a kindness.
Some of the things listed above will come naturally to some people and not to others. Both lists could be a lot longer but with these four basic “Do’s” and three essential “Don’ts” you are more apt to be helpful as a relational/emotional nurse to someone you care about whose heart has recently been or felt broken.