We are all grievers.
Each of us has been through the ringer at some point in our lives. Yet when others face tough times, we usually have no idea what to do or say when they tell us their troubles.
I often hear people say "no one feels like I feel" or "if I tell people how I feel, they may think I am crazy or they may not want to be around me." Even though we have all been through something -- a break up, the death of someone important, a move, a rejection, etc. -- we often feel alone in our experiences.
The truth is people often don't know how to relate to your emotions, because they don't know how to relate to their own. We aren't given tools as a society to deal with the sad stuff. We are expected to feel good most or all of the time. When you say "how are you?" the most common response is "fine, how are you?" It immediately takes the spotlight off of how you are doing and puts it on the other.
When we do have something going on in our life that isn't so great, and we have the courage to tell the truth, we are often hit with these four mechanical responses:
Number 1 is the platitude. A platitude is a remark, especially one with moral content, which has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. While it is nice to say "I'm sorry" when you have done something wrong, most people don't like to hear that when they are going through a hard time. Other platitudes can be "good things come to those who wait," "it was meant to be" or "forgive and forget."
Number 2 is the quick fix. The quick fix is common in our society because we are so solution based. This can sound something like "you'll find someone else" or "have you started applying for other jobs?"
Number 3 is the optimist. The optimist is a sister to the quick fix. This is the person who tries to make it better by sharing how it could have been worse. It often sounds like "at least you have other children," "you can get a new dog" or "think of all the time you had together..."
And finally, number 4 is the story stealer. This person is trying to relate to you, but in doing so they tell you, "I know exactly how you feel" and (often) proceed by telling you their own story. In most cases, the story is not similar and definitely isn't the same.
As much as I hate to admit it, I have used many of these responses. I was the platitude, the quick fix, the optimist and the story stealer. If this describes you too, don't feel ashamed my friend. You are not alone, and that is why I am going to share something new with you.
We say these mechanical things because we don't know what else to say. We don't know how to respond when people are sad. If we don't have any tools to support others during the dark moments, we just kind-of say what other people have said to us even though we don't like it.
Here are some helpful things to do next time you are faced with someone's emotional emergency:
Listen. Sometimes just being there and quietly listening is the most helpful thing you can do. When listening, you can show that you care by your body language. For example, you can touch your heart, sigh, or shake your head in disbelief.
Respond truthfully. My favorite response from the Grief Recovery Institute is "I can't imagine what this has been like for you." Then, if you listen, they will often tell you exactly what it is like for them.
Ask them what they want. "Do you want me to offer solutions or would you prefer I just listen?" By simply asking this question, you can avoid offering unsolicited advice.
Acknowledge what they are saying. Instead of trying to offer a quick fix, most people appreciate it when you just acknowledge their pain, frustration, or sadness. This can sound like "that sucks" or "that sounds hard..." When we acknowledge what they are saying, they often feel heard and supported.
Next time, try out these new tools when you find yourself in a situation where someone tells you what is going on under the "I'm fine." The thing is, most of us want to say and do the right things for the people in our lives, but we didn't how. Here's a start!
If you have experienced a loss and are struggling to find people who can support you the way you want, share this blog with the people you love and join our 7 Days to Thriving Mini-Course.