Say This, Not That | When Someone Is Hurting

The moment I realize someone is hurting, I stumble. My mind slows down. My arms drop stiffly to my sides.

Oh boy, what should I say?

Even the most optimistic of people have a hard time embracing those who’ve hit rock bottom. And that’s because moments like those are rare.

Getting fired. An unexpected break-up. Losing a friend. Severe depression. Parents getting divorced. Death of a loved one.

It’s a staggering pain that sticks deep within the skin, one that takes months, if not years, to recover. And when you’re their one and only savior to alleviate this suffering, every word you say matters. And what’s been said cannot be undone. Or forgotten.

So next time think carefully before you fill the silence with the wrong words. Because the last thing you want is to hurt the person who’s looking up to you to take away their pain.

That said, here are some phrases you should restrict yourself from saying to someone who’s hurting and what to say instead.

1. Don’t say “I know what you’re going through.”

When someone’s grieving, don’t assume you know what they’re feeling, because honestly you don’t.

For example, if your friend lost his parents, you won’t help him by saying, “I know what you’re going through. It’ll pass.”

Reciprocating someone’s experience is good if it’s positive. But in more delicate situations, this response makes you look insensitive and cold-hearted. Don’t treat someone’s pain as something that’s easy to overcome.

Say this “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you, but you’re strong for telling me”

Be honest about how you feel. Even if you don’t know how tough it must’ve been for them, say it. It’s better than pretending like you do. Just make sure you back up your honest feelings with an empowering statement that bolsters their courage to open up their feelings. They’ll feel stronger inside.

2. Never use the words “It could be worse.”

This is probably one of the most thoughtless things you can say, even though it’s true. Yes, something worse can happen compared to our current situation, but what good would that bring if you mention that?

For example, if your boss’s son got arrested, don’t tell him, “It could’ve been worse — what if he was badly injured?”

You’ll bring in more unnecessary agony than what’s already there, even though you’re only trying to alleviate the gravity of the situation.

Say this “When all this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.”

People who feel hurt often feel alone. That’s why we always seek our friends and family, because they’re simply there to help when we feel our lowest. So reconfirm that you’ll be there for them, during their hardship and after.

3. Avoid saying “Everything happens for a reason.”

As well-meaning as this phrase goes, it’s got zero value. Actually worst — you’re reinforcing the idea that there IS a reason “why” something horrible happened. And this just brings the mood down.

In truth, you’re not solving anything by saying this. You’re only dodging the bullet and becoming ignorant to the person’s feelings.

Say this “I wish I had something to say that’d take away the pain, but I don’t. But I’m here to listen.”

Sometimes, it’s better not to say anything and just listen. It allows them to open up their feelings and feel more connected with you — physically and mentally.

4. Don’t say “If you need anything, just call me.”

They called you, didn’t they? If you leave them with the problem, they’re only going to feel worse because you couldn’t help them at that moment. It’s better to fix problems early on before they intensify into a nastier breakdown.

Say this “How can I help?”

Be proactive as their support. Do their dishes, walk their dog, buy some take-out, give them a hug. If they reject your help, ask them what you can do to help. It’s small things like these that work wonders when the going gets tough. And even if they don’t show their appreciation for your efforts, it does make a difference in how they feel.

We all have something in common here: wanting to be a hero when someone’s hurting. Be there. Listen. Show support. These are the best ways to show that you’re there when they need it most.

It’s your turn now. How did the people closest to you help you when you were grieving?

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