“If you were smart, you would do …”
“Been there myself, and the answer is to…”
Hey, stop trying to ‘fix’ someone or fix the situation with words – not helping! To be helpful, begin by sharing their feelings. And sometimes that help comes in the form of primarily silence, with a ‘mmm…’ and accompanying supportive body language. Open by asking about the upsetting situation, then just be there for the person, sharing in feeling of the experience vicariously.
Another unhelpful communication: someone in distress hears in response: “What I try to do when these kinds of things happen to me is to be open to all that life brings, whatever comes” or other similar dribble. Hearing that can move you quickly from sad to mad, to the point that you just want to reach out and slap the ‘comforter’ (but please refrain from physical violence!) Those kinds of condescending words, coupled with a blasé tone, can send a distressed person over the edge, if they are thinking clearly. But usually, people give other people the benefit of the doubt (“Oh, I know she meant well.”) since to do otherwise would just add to the distress, making things worse.
The best way to comfort a person in distress, after sharing in the feelings, is to then recognize where their source of authority comes from – is it internal or external? Do they look to others for approval, or do they look inside themselves for their standards?
If they are external, then reinforcing to them that they are not alone and everyone else in a similar situation would react the same way, take the same action they took, etc. would be welcomed. In the eyes of others, yourself included, they are still admirable and good. Your support is critically important to a person with an external source of authority.
If the person has an internal source of authority, clearly take a different tract. Tell them that they know in their heart that they are right, they took the best and only course of action open to them, they didn’t compromise their principles and lived up to their standards. Hearing others opinions does not count to an ‘internal’, especially when distressed. Their own best judgment is what matters, and your verbal support is likely not that important, as they can work out their issues largely alone. Physical support and more silence than words would be best appreciated.
In no case is fixing the person the answer. People are not things, and you are not a handyman. Good communication skills require knowing when to speak, when not to speak, and what to say when you do speak, to be most helpful to the situation at hand.