1. You can’t solve other people’s problems (and you don’t need to).
2. You’ll never know how they feel. Just because you’re empathizing with someone doesn’t mean you’ll ever be able to know exactly how they feel. Divorce, for some people, is absolutely devastating. For others, it’s a relief and a reason to throw a party.
Try asking “How are you?” No one dies from being asked “How are you?”
But if someone has just been through major trauma (egs. brain tumor or spouse just died), and you ask them “How are you?”, they may as well reply with some version of “How the fuck do you think I’m doing?”
Which, in all honestly, is a fair response.
You can try “How are you doing TODAY?” because it turns an overwhelming question into a totally manageable one.
And then you can always follow up with “I’m sorry.”
“This happened to me, too.”
Sometimes bad times can make us feel alone and ashamed. Knowing that someone we admire has gone through something similar can make us feel less alone. But just because you have experienced the same thing as someone else does NOT mean you know how they feel. People don’t need you to share their exact same feelings down to the molecular level. They just want to know you have been through something similar, and they’re not alone.