$#!% People Say: What NOT to Say when Someone is Hurting (and a few tips on what actually TO say)
Maybe you've experienced a significant loss or tragedy in your life. You lost a loved one or endured a difficult divorce; maybe you miscarried or struggled with infertility; maybe you got laid off. In opening up and sharing about your circumstance with someone, you were met with one of these responses:
"Well, something/someone better must be right around the corner!"
"You can always get pregnant again."
"Well, there's a reason for everything."
"God doesn't give us what we can't handle."
"Isn't it time you stopped grieving and moved on?"
I've heard these and many more by well-meaning individuals, but here's where a response like this falls short--it forces the person who is hurting to stop talking, shut down their feelings, and move on from the real hurt they are experiencing. All of these responses yank someone out of tender space they are in, forcing on them our own discomfort, encouraging them to feel "positive" rather than acknowledging the real hurt that is negatively affecting them.
You wouldn't try to slap a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound. Significant wounds require special treatment: emergency first aid, daily maintenance, and time to heal. The same can be said of our emotions. In the midst of significant or traumatic loss, the last thing we need is some quick, surface-y solution. We need emotional triage, compassion and empathy, and time to heal.
Instead of rushing though the discomfort, we should learn to slow down and express compassion and empathy:
Compassion: from the root "com" or with, and "passion," or feeling. With feeling.
Empathy: from the root "path" or feeling, and "em" meaning into or with. Feeling with.
To show someone true compassion or empathy is to FEEL. WITH. them. Imagine if your kid burnt his hand and you could feel the burning in your own hand--you would cry and scream and hurt along with them. To truly feel what another is experiencing takes practice and intention, and quite honestly, it can really hurt. What we do with those feelings is what makes our response good, bad, or heartless.
Maybe you've been on the other side of this conversation; someone shared a tender or tragic moment with you, caught you off guard, and you didn't have time to think through your response before blurting out something like the statements above. We've all been there. But you can do better!
So the next time someone shares with you a significant or horrific loss, don't rush into a response.
Stop. Think. FEEL.
If nothing comes to you, try one of these on for size:
"I am so sorry that this has happened."
"I cannot imagine what it must be like."
"This must be so hard for you."
"My heart hurts for you."
"This is awful. I'm heartbroken."
"I don't know what to say. So I'm just going to sit here and listen and show you that I care."
Another way to approach hurt is to ask simple questions of how you can help:
"What can I do?"
"What do you need?"
"How can I best support you right now?"
"Is there anything I can do to help you though this?"
What's the worst thing someone's said to you? How about the best? Share in the comments below.