If you really want my advice, I suggest that you just listen to whatever he or she is feeling and needing, without judging, minimizing their problems, deflecting attention from the problems, talking about what he or she says that triggers you, or solving the problems that cause the pain. When he or she asks for your help, request that this person see a counselor but don’t have any expectations, and make no judgment if there is no follow through. Just continue being there for him or her with true empathic listening and reflecting skills. If the person suggests that they may hurt themselves or someone else, then question, persuade and refer (QPR), and if necessary, ask if you can escort them to a counselor.
To strengthen these skills you might read a book about Nonviolent Communication (NVC; also known as Compassionate Communication) by Marshall Rosenberg which will teach you about communicating with authenticity and listening with your heart. I have seen people transformed by this communication, and I know that my friends appreciate my compassionate listening skills that I learned from NVC.
If you do these things, know that you have done your best to help not only this person who is in pain now, but every other person in your life now and in the future. The hundreds who will be affected from your learning will then each effect hundreds more even if they never learn NVC, and so on into an infinite number of positive helpful connections that result from your sole effort to be more compassionate in your listening. This learning and impact on the world that you achieve honors the person who stimulated you to pursue a more compassionate way of communicating. This person gave you this if you pursue it.
[This Blog Post is reposted from a writing that I did almost 14 years ago on the 22nd of May, 2007]