Everybody grieves. Loss may be part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with. Your first instinct, when approaching someone dealing with loss or sadness, is to figure out how to make them feel better. There are right, and wrong, ways to go about this.
Though you probably mean well when you use your words to comfort people who are grieving, you might actually be making things worse. Here are the phrases you should keep out of your vocabulary when supporting friends and family — and what to say, and do, instead.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
It’s the automatic response we all give when we see someone hurting. It’s almost like a reflex — but it’s not a very good one.
What, exactly, are you apologizing for? That’s what your loved one might wonder as you’re doing your best to comfort them as they grieve. The truth is, most people don’t want others to feel sorry for them. They want to feel loved and cared for. A simple “I’m here” might be enough.
Next: Sometimes, a little empathy is enough.
‘I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling.’
You might mean well here, but believe it or not, you actually can try imagining what someone else is going through. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to have gone through something in order to comfort someone else. It means you can appreciate someone’s feelings even when they don’t impact you directly.
Also be cautious when letting someone know you understand their situation, though. Chances are, you can never fully step into their shoes. You don’t have to try. You just have to be there.
Next: Don’t make them feel small.
‘There are still people way worse off than you.’
This might be true. But does it matter? When you’re feeling upset about something, is your immediate reaction always to think about everyone in the world going through something worse?
Consider that in every person’s mind, grief is, currently, the worst thing they are going through. It’s all they can, and should have to, think about. It doesn’t matter if they’ve lost a pet, a spouse, or a casual acquaintance. It still hurts, and there’s no reason for you to diminish that pain.
Next: Don’t force them onto a timeline.
‘Shouldn’t you be over it by now?’
Grief doesn’t have a set time limit. Everyone grieves in their own way, and do so for as long as they feel they need to. Some reach acceptance fairly quickly. Others take years or longer to reach that stage, if they ever get there.
For many people, there is no “getting over it.” Their loss becomes a part of their everyday lives. It’s OK to miss someone or something you’ve lost.
Next: Don’t say they should be happier.
The same way you wouldn’t tell someone living with depression to “just be happy,” there’s no logical reason you might tell a person who has lost someone or something they love to “cheer up.”
Psychologists actually claim that embracing sadness in times of loss is one of the healthiest ways to handle grief. People should be allowed to express how they feel. Don’t force them, even unintentionally, to bottle up their feelings just because you think they should act happy.
Next: Don’t remind them how alone they are.
‘They’re in a better place.’
You might believe that, and your friend or family member might even believe that. But it’s not as comforting of a phrase, in the moment, as you might think. They very well may be “in a better place,” but it’s not the place their loved one wants them to be in. They’re not physically there, and that’s upsetting.
Instead of handing over this common phrase, simply listen. Let your loved one tell you how they feel, instead of constantly trying to comfort them.
Next: Don’t speak empty words and walk away.
Regardless of what someone you know might be going through, telling them to “stay strong” is possibly one of the worst ways you can react.
Telling someone to “stay strong” implies they aren’t permitted to grieve. It’s not a mourning person’s job to act like they have it all together. These two words are, like many others, just empty phrases. If you aren’t going to do something to ease their pain, don’t make things worse by telling them to keep on keeping on.
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