Please Don't Say This to Someone Who is Hurting
Last August I moved to Virginia from Connecticut where we had lived for over 12 years. The 12 main family years. You know those years - school, sports, dances, band concerts, confirmations, graduations and birthday parties. All the laughs and tears and friends and activities that had become such an integral part of my life were about to be left behind.
The thought of moving out of one house and moving into another one, coupled with starting fresh with everything was exhausting. My husband had a new job, two of my girls were off to college and my youngest daughter was starting High School. It seemed that everyone was set with their path ahead but me (enter violin and pity party, I know, but this is how I felt). Nothing was physically wrong, but my heart was shattered.
If you know me, you know that I love to talk. A lot. I love to laugh and hang out with friends. I am not shy, and I love people. So, it’s really easy to see how some did not take me seriously when I told them how much I didn’t want to move. How tough it was going to be. Or maybe they did but didn’t know what to say… because we all know that happens too. And what was the line I heard the most? What was the line I wanted to scream every single time I heard it?
“You’re going to be fine.” Or “You’ll do great.” Or “You’ll make friends in no time.”
I really wanted to scream each and every time I heard these terrible very bad no good lines… shake the poor friend of mine and say “I KNOW I’LL BE FINE! BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT TO HEAR” (yes, I’m shouting on purpose). I just wanted people to say “I know it sucks right? I’m so sorry. You know I’ll always be here. I’m going to miss you.” That’s all. I was literally going through a case of Kleenex an hour at this point and just wanted people to hug me and say it was all going to be ok.
Dr. Kenneth C Hauk, in his great book, “Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart” calls these kind of phrases “Pink Thinking”. Pink thinking behaviors gloss over, deny or minimize the painful reality of a suffering person. And it’s easy to see why we say these phrases, because face it, we all do. We say these kinds of things because we want the person to know how much we believe in them. Our initial instinct is to solve their hurt. Not be in their hurt with them.
No one said comforting is easy. But these situations don’t have to be hard. The simplest rule of thumb is this: don’t change the mood. If you are talking to someone going through a tough time, follow their mood. If they’re happy be happy. If they’re sad, be sad with them. Hug them. Don’t try to cheer them up. Don’t try to solve anything. Don’t compare their hurt with yours. Just be there. And care. And listen. Let them talk. Or just sit in silence.
It’s not always this simple, but it’s a start. If you want to learn and practice more, I can help with that too. Give me a call.
Comfort on my friends, comfort on.
PS I forgive every single one of my friends who said those terrible very bad no good lines to me. 💜
Jen Marr is Founder & CEO of Inspiring Comfort LLC. Learn more about how you can comfort better at www.inspiringcomfort.com