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How to talk to people who are hurting - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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How to talk to people who are hurting [Aug. 26th, 2013|09:56 am]
Zoethe
When confronted with someone's grief or pain, someone's terror for a sick child or other loved one, someone's own illness, it is common and understandable to want to ameliorate that grief or pain or terror by cheering them up.

STOP DOING THAT.

When you tell a person that it's happening for a reason, or that it's all going to be okay, or that God has a plan, you are putting a burden on an already overloaded person. Your interaction includes an expectation of a response, and that response contains an expectation of feeling better. You may not realize that you are doing this, but trying to cheer someone up by minimizing their grief or pain carries the message that says, "You should stop feeling the way you are feeling and feel better now."

That's trivializing what the person is going through. And creating an expectation that they must either respond to or silently try to ignore. In trying to help, you are making it worse.

So what should you say? Some version of "I am so sorry. This is terrible." It carries no expectation that your words will magically lighten their burden; it just acknowledges their pain. By acknowledging their pain, and not putting an expectation upon them to feel less of it, you are allowing them the choice to share more if they wish. If it's someone you know well, they might want to talk about it. If they don't, it's not a reflection on you.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2013-08-26 02:00 pm (UTC)
you probably have an idea of how much this helps. It really does.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 02:08 pm (UTC)
I feel much better when someone does this.
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[User Picture]From: snippy
2013-08-26 02:07 pm (UTC)
The piece that I need to hear is "This is a completely understandable and appropriate response to the horrible stuff that is happening to you. You are entitled to feel this way about this thing."
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 02:14 pm (UTC)
Yes. That is real support.
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[User Picture]From: gythiawulfie
2013-08-26 02:29 pm (UTC)

This! Yep!

Perfect.. and people don't get it... but yeah... just letting them know you are there if they need you is all they really need sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 03:12 pm (UTC)

Re: This! Yep!

Being available is the most important thing.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2013-08-26 02:52 pm (UTC)
Yes. Very much. A friend recently discovered that friend had cancer. When that friend had her biopsy and word wasn't forthcoming fast enough, someone posted "You'll see, it's going to be nothing and everything will be fine."

I was angry for the friend. As it turned out it WAS something.

It's so hard to know what to say. This is a big, big help.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 03:15 pm (UTC)
I remember one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given when dealing with the day-to-day heartbreak of small children:

Don't just do something, stand there!

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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2013-08-26 04:45 pm (UTC)
that's pretty much what thomas told me the first time he rejected his transplant and we were in the hospital for so long. he told me i didn't have to sit there in the room all the time. and when i was in the room i didn't have to talk all the time. like his mom, he's a "need space and quiet" type.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 07:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, just being present can be enough.
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2013-08-26 07:16 pm (UTC)
he finally got that through my head :) and i should have known; i'm the same way.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 09:12 pm (UTC)
I just had to refrain from being too helpful while Ferrett was having a moment of grief over his grammy. We all have that impulse.
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[User Picture]From: mariadkins
2013-08-26 11:26 pm (UTC)
yes, we do. :)
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2013-08-26 03:02 pm (UTC)
Oh fuck this yes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 03:13 pm (UTC)
I don't think people intend to burden others, but it does happen.
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[User Picture]From: starrchilde
2013-08-26 03:23 pm (UTC)
I usually just wish people thoughts of strength, peace, hope, love and/or perseverance, as seems appropriate.

I can't even begin to imagine what they're going through, but I would guess they'll need all the positive thoughts people are willing to offer to get them through the ordeal.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 03:58 pm (UTC)
That is a kindness
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[User Picture]From: ckd
2013-08-26 04:13 pm (UTC)
Same here, and I include "you and yours" in my wishes because these ordeals ripple outwards in so many ways.
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[User Picture]From: mplsindygirl
2013-08-26 04:29 pm (UTC)
This is pretty much what I do, too.
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[User Picture]From: lyssabard
2013-08-26 05:48 pm (UTC)
This is helpful, and I like it because it does acknowledge that people are in community, that there's a web and a network and trauma and grief that effects everyone in it. At the same time, it provides good instructions on a simple way to think of what to do with your own emotions--and as stress escalates, that can become more challenging, as even those on the outer rings of your circle may be on inner rings of their own, etc. Like telling folks to bring a casserole and put it in the kitchen, this is the messy what to do with what your heart and brain are cooking up before the mouth spews out in confusion. :)

Sometimes it's hard to convey the "I'm listening and here for you" in text and feel like it's compassionate and doesn't just sound sincere. Like others, I tend to send wishes of strength, love, and peace for those in the situation.
And man, I still wish those words could just magically fix and heal all wounds.

Love you, btw.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-26 07:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Love you.

The thing about pain is that it doesn't come at us like Ninjas in a bad action film, each waiting their turn. No, they swarm us, so they are concentric circles of pain. It's all tough.
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2013-08-26 06:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, and yes, and yes.
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[User Picture]From: kathrynrose
2013-08-26 08:32 pm (UTC)
So much yes.

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[User Picture]From: tinhuviel
2013-08-26 10:58 pm (UTC)
Perfect
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[User Picture]From: dragonsflame71
2013-08-27 12:08 am (UTC)
This. So much this right now.
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From: anonymousalex
2013-08-27 04:09 am (UTC)
There's a reason "I'm so sorry for your loss" is a cliché. It's because 95+% of the time, it's the right thing to say.

-Alex
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[User Picture]From: gabyrippling
2013-08-27 05:20 am (UTC)
This pretty much goes for any mood. Nobody likes having their emotions invalidated.
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[User Picture]From: celticdragonfly
2013-08-27 12:13 pm (UTC)
OH YES THIS.

Also, DO NOT give grieving people homework. It's astonishing how many people want me to help publicize the blood drive they're doing in my daughter's name, or go to PTA meetings to help discuss and plan the memorial the school wants to do, or etc, etc. Do not give me more homework. I'm doing well to be out of bed and getting my kids through the basics, I still have a huge stack of thank you notes I need to do, I am trying to keep up on enough dishes and laundry to cope.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-27 02:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have been trying to take all the "how can we help" questions from the Meyers and keep that work away from them. It's crazy!
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[User Picture]From: selenite
2013-08-27 03:05 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's wonderful. One the of the best things a friend did for us was come stay for a couple of days around the funeral and answer the door/phone to fend people off.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-27 04:29 pm (UTC)
In your case I'm sure there was a slew of "lookie loos" to deal with.
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[User Picture]From: selenite
2013-08-27 07:36 pm (UTC)
Eh. Only a few lookie-loos as such. TV and press reporters, but having a blanket "no" policy discouraged them. The occasional oddity of "we saw something that might have been evidence but the tip line didn't care" and such. Plus some well-meaning idiots.

A friend was visiting and wound up commenting "You know your life is weird when there's a knock on the door and you hope it's the police."
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2013-08-27 07:46 pm (UTC)
Yikes. That' is a weird place to be.
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[User Picture]From: noshot
2013-08-27 10:06 pm (UTC)
I'm the opposite; I like when people tell me to suck it up, rather than feel sorry for me. Maybe it's just the way I was brought up.
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