Five tips to help a friend who is self-isolating

From being vulnerable yourself to giving them their own space, here are five ways you can reach out to your hurting friend.

Ruth Chan

Enjoys solitude. Finds comfort in watching the sunset and drinking milo.

Published: 1 December 2020, 4:39 PM

Having support from a good community is important when going through tough seasons in life. As someone who’s often guilty of isolating myself from the rest of the world when dealing with personal issues, learning to open up to supportive friends around me is a lesson that I hold close to my heart.

But I also know it can be difficult for people who are trying to help a friend who’s self-isolating. What are the dos-and-don’ts when it comes to reaching out to someone who just wants to wallow in their sorrows?

Here’s my personal take on what you can do to help.

1. Constantly assure them that you have their back

Words of affirmation are very important. Being able to express your love, gratitude and concern for another person helps establish trust and motivation towards stronger relationships. Even if that’s not their primary love language (like me), it really works wonders. 

Sometimes, the reason why people isolate themselves is that they feel like they have nobody to turn to. Even if it’s not exactly true, that feeling manifests into a reality they’ve accepted.

Thus, repeatedly assuring them that you’re there is the first step for them to break the chain of negativity that’s clouding their vision.

Of course, it goes without saying that it is crucial for you to follow through on your promise by checking up on them every now and then. It also means being there for them when they need you, such as calling them late at night when they’re having a mental breakdown or showing up at their house early in the morning to give them a shoulder to cry on. 

2. Validate whatever they're feeling

It’s not easy for someone who is self-isolating to reach out to anyone. It certainly takes a lot of courage to trust that someone else could understand their worries, bitterness and doubts. 

It is thus paramount for you to make them feel their feelings are valid. 

Invalidation – the process of denying, rejecting or dismissing someone’s feelings – is a sure way to make people retreat back into their shells. 

Hence when listening to them, avoid phrases like “at least it’s not…”, “it could be worse” and “you shouldn’t feel that way”. These evoke feelings of loneliness, frustration and the marginalisation of their pain.


Some of the usual phrases we use to encourage people unintentionally invalidate their feelings, so we should be more mindful of our words. PHOTO CREDITS: NIK SHULIAHIN VIA UNSPLASH


Keep in mind that everyone is built differently. What may seem trivial to you may feel like a heavy weight upon their chest and vice versa. Putting yourself in the shoes of the other party and cultivating a sense of empathy really goes a long way.

3. Talk about your own feelings if necessary

Vulnerability is very important in any relationship. It cannot be just one person talking about their struggles all the time – a huge part of feeling secure is feeling needed.

If your loved one is experiencing a tough time and feeling a loss of independence or dignity, talk about your own struggles and give them a chance to offer you advice and comfort.

A bonus is to use whatever you’ve been through to relate to them. But remember to find a balance between listening to them and talking about yourself. 

This means to give them your full attention and not interrupt them when they are speaking and talk only when they have established that everything they want to say has been said. 

4. Give them their space when they need it

It may be heartbreaking to see someone you love going through a tough time. You may feel worried and concerned for them, but sometimes they need to work through their emotions by themselves and that’s okay.

They need the room to grow, mature and heal on their own. When dealing with something major, it can get overwhelming and having too many social interactions can be difficult. 


There needs to be a balance in reaching out to people and giving them space to grow. PHOTO CREDITS: REMI WALLE VIA UNSPLASH


While there is a need for you to draw close to them at times, there are also occasions in which the giving of space is the best thing you can do for them.

Giving someone their space can range from leaving them alone for a period of time to just being there and allowing a shoulder to cry on without expecting them to open up. Be sure to ask what they need, and accept if they don’t want help, no matter how hard it may be.

It may be helpful for you to study their body language, pay close attention to their tone of voice and use a bit of gut intuition in order to determine if they are purposefully shutting you out or if they genuinely need their own space. 

5. Involve others

No matter how close the both of you are, you cannot and should not be their only support system. If you are, you run the risk of overwhelming yourself, which can lead to burnout, and in turn, affect your own mental health.

As the saying goes, “a burden shared is a burden halved”. It is pivotal to involve others to share the responsibility as well as to make a person feel part of the community again.


Involving others can help your loved one to feel more connected to the rest of the world. PHOTO CREDITS: DUY PHAM VIA UNSPLASH


This doesn’t mean that you share the secrets of your friends with others, but you can invite friends who care to hang out with the both of you or have a regular group video chat. These may even be opportunities for your friend to open up to more people with their struggles. 

This list may not necessarily work for everyone because everyone is different. By mixing and matching difficult strokes for different folks, you might just be able to find some methods that work best in supporting your friend. 

Learn to manage your emotions better during these unprecedented times by ‘Braving The New’.

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