It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone is struggling. One of the hardest things about being there for someone who is hurting, scared, or just plain sad can be figuring out how best to respond. Sometimes it feels like you should just tell them everything will be okay even though they may not believe that deep down inside.
But what happens if you don’t? What do you say instead? How do you offer hope and comfort without sounding trite or clichéd? I’m here with 10 suggestions of things NOT TO SAY when someone struggling during a difficult time:
Everything will be okay
This one is a biggie and it’s usually not helpful to say. First of all, the person may not believe that everything will be okay because they’re in pain. So often we think we’re doing someone a favor by telling them “It will get better” or “you’ll be fine.” A lot of times these comments fall flat and the person just feels upset and more alone than ever. When someone is struggling you can show them that you are listening without trying to offer any solutions or easy answers at all. Just talk about how much you care for them, tell them what changes you’ve noticed in their moods, remind them of good times together, anything that makes the person feel loved rather than like you think they’re a mess.
This is all your fault
When someone is struggling, it’s easy to think that if only you had done something differently or hadn’t said what you said then they wouldn’t be feeling this way. Instead of saying “It’s all your fault” try asking the person what other things could have changed instead. Ask someone who struggles with depression how their relationships might be improved by other people doing more for them and taking care of themselves rather than expecting too much from the depressed person. When someone is sad about something evolving in their lives like a breakup or loss of job focus on what else could help make things better instead of saying blame-y things like “it’s all your fault.”
This is not only unhelpful, but it’s also just not true. People who are struggling are usually dealing with a lot of intense emotions and they may very well be reacting appropriately to the situation. If you don’t think their reaction is warranted, try to keep your thoughts to yourself. Telling someone that they’re overreacting will only make them feel worse and unsupported. Just let them express what they’re feeling without judgment.
You’re being too sensitive
Again, this is a comment that is hard to judge without knowing the person extremely well. If someone is sharing their feelings with you, it’s because they trust you and want your support. Telling them that they are “too sensitive” can make them feel like you don’t understand or that their feelings aren’t valid.
You should just get over it/forgive and forget
This is another one that isn’t easy to do and it’s unhelpful to tell someone who is struggling to just get over it. Forgiveness is a personal choice and something that should be done when the person who has been hurt feels ready and not before. It’s not your place to tell them what they should do.
Everyone has problems/It could always be worse
Everyone can relate to these well-worn phrases but for the person who is struggling, it’s best to avoid saying them at all costs. Someone who is struggling may feel that you are minimizing their pain just by saying these things. Also, “it could always be worse” isn’t helpful because even though this might be true, it doesn’t mean that the person who is hurting now will feel better now because of it.
I wish I knew what to say
If you are struggling with saying the right thing then avoid saying this. Instead, ask some questions about the person’s feelings instead of trying to offer any solutions or easy answers. For example, “How are you feeling?” “What is going on for you right now?” “I am listening.” These types of open-ended questions can be really helpful for people who are hurting because they feel like someone is listening and caring about their feelings.
You should see a therapist/I went to therapy and it helped me
Therapy can be really helpful for some people but it’s not always the right choice for everyone. Telling someone who is hurting that they “should” see a therapist just makes them feel like you think they are broken. There are many different types of therapy and different therapists might not be a good fit for the person who is struggling. If you have had a good experience with therapy, try to keep your comments positive and focus on what has helped you instead of saying that therapy will “fix” the person who is struggling.
This isn’t that bad/You’re making a big deal out of nothing
Again, these phrases are impossible to judge without knowing the person and their situation well. If someone is sharing their pain with you, it’s because they trust you and want your support. Telling them that their feelings are “not that bad” or that they are “making a big deal out of nothing” can make them feel like you don’t understand or that their feelings aren’t valid.
You should pray/think positively
It’s best to avoid telling someone who is struggling that they “should” do any of these things. Prayer and positive thinking can be helpful for some people, but they may not feel like praying or thinking positively right now. It is important to remember that we all believe different things and have different ways that we cope with our struggles. Telling someone what you think they should do can feel invalidating and unhelpful.
It is important to remember that people who are suffering need your support and empathy, not you telling them what they should or shouldn’t be feeling. You can make a world of difference for someone by just being there for them in their time of need.