Really, anything beginning with “just” or “at least.”
You may very well believe that everything happens for a reason, or that god has a plan. Many people do. But these are YOUR beliefs, and unless you know that the suffering person shares them, they likely won’t serve as comfort the way they might for you.
Your job is to HEAR, not reduce someone’s worry.
Worst-case scenarios make people feel even more afraid than they already did.
If you decide to support someone going through a rough time, your authentic gift starts with what you can give, not with what someone needs.
Doing something we naturally like to do means we’re more likely to do it.
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.
Three instances should give us pause before diving in to help someone.
1. Sometimes life gets in the way, and crises often happen at the most inconvenient times.
Your best friend’s relationship is crumbling right when you have a major deadline. Just when it feels extra challenging to take care of ourselves, we’re sometimes called upon to take care of others. And when we’re stressed, research shows we are less likely to feel empathy for other people.
2. The person you care about is actually really hard to care for.
Some things – like dementia, major mental illness, addiction – are way more emotionally and financially demanding than you can handle.
3. There are people in our lives who are takers, who will always want more than we can reasonably give.
Emotional vampires exist. Some people have no filter on their emotions for even the smallest of life’s grievances. They’re always disappointed in others and they’re really hard people to give to.
In these moments, show compassion for yourself. Recognize that maybe you cant do it all or don’t want to do it all. Not because you hate being inconvenienced, but because you recognize you cant give without feeling depleted and, thus, resentful.
All our difficult times involve some degree of shame, fear, and loneliness. At times like that, we don’t need anyone to impress us or skillfully talk us out of our pain. We mostly just need the kindness that compels anyone to try.
If we view people’s efforts of kindness as “not enough” then we will likely continue to be disappointed.