Ever felt like saying that to someone? The title sounds harsh when you first see it. After all, what kind of mean thing is that to say when people are only trying to make you feel better? But the truth is most of us have probably felt like saying that at least once in our lives.
Everybody means well when they’re trying to encourage you at a bad time in your life. I think though, that many times we can actually make a person feel worse while trying to make them feel better. That’s because many of us don’t quite know the right things to say when someone is hurting. So we often think if we can maybe change the person’s mood by changing their perspective of their own situation.
That’s where most of us go wrong, in my opinion. Because usually we do that by pointing out to the person that other people are in a much worse predicament. Again, we all do this with the best of intentions and from the purest of hearts. But more often than not you just make a person feel worse by saying things like that.
I remember almost 20 years ago now, my then wife got pregnant with twins. One of them died in the womb before she delivered. We were both devastated of course, as were all of our family and friends. Searching for ways to comfort us people were saying things like: “Well at least you still have one left. You could have lost them both. A lot of people only have one child and they lose them.”
I totally get where they were coming from and what they were trying to do. But I mean, think about that for a second. That’s almost barbaric when you really stop to consider the implications of statements like that. First of all when you seek to encourage someone by telling them that other people are even worse off, it trivializes or nullifies what that person is feeling. So instead of encouraging them you’re basically telling them they’re ungrateful or somehow wrong for feeling what they’re feeling.
Secondly, you can almost never make a person feel better by pointing out to them that many other people are even worse off. If I tell you I’ve been discouraged about financial difficulties I’ve been having and you start lecturing me about about people in 3rd world countries who have even less, it won’t make me feel any better about my own situation. It’ll only compound it. Because now not only do I feel like crap, I feel like crap for feeling like crap.
So these people who were trying to encourage me when I lost my son could never have known that saying such a thing made me feel like they were telling me that I was somehow ungrateful or wrong for morning the death of a son I’d never get to meet. Nor would they have ever said such a thing with that intention. But that’s how most people approach encouraging someone in a time of grief or sadness.
I do believe, because I’ve felt that way myself, that often a person’s perspective gets out of whack when they’re going through a trial. You can feel like that’s all there is, and that it will never get better. That the situation is hopeless. So helping a person gain a healthier perspective is a good thing. I just don’t think dismissing their feelings or their right to feel that way is the best way to do it. In fact any statement that starts with “well, at least…” should probably be avoided because it will almost always end up being condescending to someone who is hurting.
I think most people want a sympathetic ear more than anything during times like these. Or the company of someone who cares. To be encouraged and to be told that it will get better. That someone understands or has felt that way too. To know that that it will pass.
The want us to offer our help and reassurance that we’re there for them. But if there’s one thing we all need to STOP doing is trying to encourage people by pointing out how much WORSE it could be.
Here are links to a couple of other articles I found really informative. Both of them focus on better ways to encourage someone.