Crossway Blog has a post containing Ten Ways Not To Help A Hurting Friend drawn from a book by Dave Furman.
Reading these sort of suggestions regularly is very helpful because of our compassion based tendency to want to do something when people we know are suffering, though those impulse actions can be insensitive and hurtful despite being well-intentioned.
Here’s an example:
Don’t Play the Comparison Game
“Oh, wow, you have arm pain. I had tennis elbow one time, and it was really rough. I couldn’t play any sports for a couple of weeks. I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Unless you’re Jesus, it almost never helps to tell someone that you know exactly what he or she is going through. We think we’re encouraging others by proclaiming we’ve gone through something similar, when in reality what they’re going through may be much different from our past experience. It is certainly not exactly the same. Another way you might play the comparison game is to point out other people who have it worse than your friend. We might think we’re helping when we tell someone who has a hurt leg, “Well, at least you still have a leg. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have any legs, and they can’t walk at all. Praise God for the leg you have!” But how is that supposed to make the person feel? Not better, that’s for sure. When you do this, you minimize another person’s suffering. You are making your suffering friend feel like his pain is “no big deal.” To people in pain—whatever their issue is—it is a big deal. A person’s suffering is no small suffering to that person in that moment. If you minimize a person’s pain, it will compound his hurt even more. And when a person’s experience of his real pain is invalidated, then he is not pointed to Christ for hope and help. Why bother Jesus with something that’s really no big deal? A better way forward is to say, “I love you,” and “I am so sorry,” and to pour out your heart in compassion for the one hurting because what he’s going through is difficult and unique to him. Rather than working hard to remember your distant relative who went through something similar and sharing those stories, show sympathy and love for the hurting person who is right in front of you. Instead of comparing your friend to someone you know, you might say, “I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand how you are feeling.”
Read the whole post here.