Here’s How You Should Actually Go About Comforting a Depressed Friend

Optimism and well-wishes are not necessarily the best way to show a suffering friend that you care

Photo: Rainer Holz/Corbis

When encountering sadness or depression in friends, we Americans often have a knee-jerk reaction to encourage our loved ones to look on the bright side. That doesn't work. Rosy, optimistic messages, it turns out, might not be the best formula for letting a friend know that you care. Instead, acknowledge that your friend's situation is crummy. Recognizing that his or her feelings are legitimate is much more helpful, Slate reports

According to new research, this finding particularly holds true for people with low self-esteem (or who temporarily posses low self-esteem due to a failure or recent blow). People experiencing low self-esteem, the researchers found, simply do not want to hear that things will get better or aren't as bad as they seem—a psychological tool called "positive reframing." In fact, not only does this not make the depressed person feel better, it actually makes the comforter feel worse, Slate reports, when it's obvious the attempt at helping is falling flat. 

Instead, people with low self-esteem simply want to be understood and listened to—a process called "negative validation. As Slate reports, instead of trying to distract from the problems or find solutions, this approach is about "validating their feelings, about simply being present and offering consolation to the best extent you can." Simply acknowledging that life sometimes sucks, it turns out, can be a path for moving forward. 

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