It is a truth universally acknowledged that shitty things happen to good people for no reason. We’ve already addressed how to comfort someone when they’re dealing with the death of a loved one, but unfortunately that’s far from the only bad thing that can happen to someone you care about. So how can you best comfort them in these times?
Firstly, make sure you keep the focus on them. Ask if they’re okay and ask what they need, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or someone to make them dinner or to be left alone for a while. It’s really tempting to bring up your own personal thoughts or experiences like you would in other conversations, but you should save those for later, otherwise it comes off as trying to use their trauma to talk about yourself. You don’t want your friend to have to deal with your worries on top of theirs.
As things progress, you should be able to offer advice that comes from personal experience (if applicable), but avoid telling your friend what they should or should not do unless they need to step away from some clearly harmful behavior. Everyone reacts in their own way to traumatic situations. For instance, if your friend is going through a breakup, don’t tell them to get out and start dating immediately even if that worked well for you in the past. But if they ask how you’ve dealt with breakups, mention it, and continue supporting their decisions whether they match yours or not.
I’ve found “being there for someone” is actually incredibly difficult. I’m the type of person prone to wanting to fix things, and give solutions and advice. I mean, hello, you’re reading my etiquette advice right now. But not all people need their problems biggest solved immediately. Sometimes they’re only ready for smaller problems to be solved, or just to mourn a situation before they go about solving it. Pay attention to that, and offer your presence in smaller ways, whether it’s offering to see a movie or help them sell some furniture on Craigslist.
Importantly, avoid “I told you so” and all other iterations of this phrase. Even if you’ve been telling this friend for years that their boyfriend sucks/their roommate is crazy/they need to pay attention at work or they’ll get fired, reminding them of this will only make them feel worse. And if you’re the type of person for whom being right matters more than that, examine yourself. You may have been right all along, but sometimes people need to discover things in their own ways, otherwise they won’t learn the lessons well enough. Focus on helping your friends grow so they don’t make similar mistakes in the future, rather than pointing out all the things they already got wrong.