When your phone buzzes so many times that you think you’re getting a phone call, only to realize it’s a string of text messages from your bestie, you know it’s something serious. Just like how expressing your feelings over text can be difficult, figuring out how to make someone feel better over text can be a challenge. Without the tone and subtle emotional cues that an IRL conversation provides, a lot can be lost in translation. While a thumbs down reaction to a sad text message is definitely not enough, a massive chunk of sympathetic jargon might be too much. So, how do you show support for your friend over text? According to clinical psychologist Caroline Fleck, Ph.D, the key to being a responsible recipient of textual feels is validation.
“With validation, you're looking to communicate that you're there for the other person, you get that their emotions are valid or understandable, and you care,” Fleck tells Bustle. “Attending to these elements is what ultimately translates as support.” Even if their situation hasn’t changed, feeling supportive can make them feel better.
Alternatively, trying to highlight a positive aspect of a situation, rushing to remedy it, or making a comparison to belittle it, can be really damaging, clinical therapist Caroline Given, L.C.S.W., tells Bustle. “Any language that is invalidating or isolating is a no go,” Given says, adding that pushing someone to problem-solve before they are ready to take action, or before they are ready for that kind of support, can actually make the situation worse.
Here are some therapist-approved messages that you can model your responses on the next time a friend leans on you for support via text.
1. “You must be feeling (fill in the blank).”
Though it can be scary to guess wrong, Fleck says that attempting to intuit someone’s emotions demonstrates not only that you're paying attention, but that you deeply want to understand. If you’re totally off-base, that’s OK. “Guessing the wrong emotion provides an opportunity for them to add clarification, which will ultimately further the conversation.”
2. “This must be particularly (difficult/sad/frustrating/fill in the emotion) given X.”
Relating the immediate circumstance to a larger picture helps to show the person you’re talking to that you fully get the weight of the situation. “Imagine if someone had to close down their bakery only a year after opening it. Now imagine that same person had cashed out their savings and retirement to launch the bakery, risking it all only to be left with nothing. Referencing this history, or putting their experience within this larger context shows that you are making connections on their behalf,” Fleck says. “This elevates your text from a perfunctory check-in to a thoughtful exchange.”
3. “Want to talk more about this on the phone?”
“This is an example of what we call in therapy ‘taking action’ — it's one of the highest forms of validation as it demonstrates that you're willing to invest your time or resources in the other person,” Fleck explains. This kind of offer not only lets the person know that you care, but that you’re willing to offer more time and energy into helping out — your concern wasn’t just a passing text.
4. “No pressure to respond, just want you to know I'm thinking about you.”
While checking in with a friend who is going through a hard time might make them feel cared about, it might also make them feel responsible for keeping you updated. Letting them know they don’t need to respond removes that burden. “This clarifies that they can respond if they want,” Fleck says.
5. “I found this article about (x thing you're going through) and thought it might be helpful.”
The goal should be to share something that helps to validate what they’re already feeling and make them feel less alone. “Putting in extra time and resources is an investment. As such you are quite literally being more supportive,” Fleck says. Just make sure that you read the whole article, to be sure that there isn’t a detail or conclusion that could belittle your friend’s feelings.
6. “Here's something to make you smile.”
If you’re confident that you’ve stumbled across something that will, in fact, make this person smile, don’t miss out on an opportunity to give them a break from feeling low. “Irreverence is safe so long as it isn't tone deaf — if it falls in the ‘too soon?’ category, it probably is,” Fleck tells Bustle. A cute baby or puppy .gif, or a meme or TikTok that aligns with your friend’s sense of humor, can help take their mind off of their big issue.
7. “What’s going through your mind right now?”“
Ask non-judgmental questions about how the person feels and what is going through their mind because it gives that person an opportunity to vent/process but also gives you insight into how they might need support,” Given tells Bustle. “I think it’s always good to try to gather some info because the way we experience hardship and the way we like to receive support can be so individualized,” she adds.
8. “How can I best support you?”
The best way to support someone, or even react to their bad news, isn’t always obvious. Asking them how they’d like to be supported gives them an opportunity to suggest something effective. If they don’t know what kind of support they need, Given says you should try offering a suggestion and asking them if that would work for them. “If I were in your shoes, I’d really want someone to just get coffee with me and talk. Would that be helpful right now?”
9. “If I were you and had experienced that, I’d be feeling exactly the same way.”
Helping someone feel like their reaction to a situation is justified is a powerful way to connect with them. “You might not be able to actually ‘do’ anything to help a friend,” Given tells Bustle, “but helping them feel like they’re not defective for how they are handling hardship can go a long way in helping someone feel supported and bolstering their confidence.”
10. “You can share as much or as little as you want.”
Some people might feel overwhelmed and incapable of sharing too many details. Alternatively, some people might be worried about over-sharing or burdening someone with their feelings. “Giving someone permission to decide what they share is a way of demonstrating open-heartedness to them while also empowering them by letting them decide how much they want to share, which can be very healing especially if what they’re going through makes them feel powerless or out of control,” Given tells Bustle.
11. “I’m here and I’m listening. I don’t want you to be alone with how you’re feeling.”
Feeling isolated can be a really scary experience, and getting down on the ground with someone without trying to pick them back up can be hugely impactful. “Just reminding them that you’re present with them and that you’re available to listen to them without judgement is so simple but so effective,” Given says.
Caroline Fleck, Ph.D, clinical psychologist
Caroline Given, L.C.S.W., clinical therapist