I believe that most people mean well. I don’t think that people go out of their way to be insensitive. But when you are going through a tough time, there are words that our loved ones and friends say that are hurtful.
Some things are better left unsaid:
1. “Everything happens for a reason.” / “It’s for the best.” / “God has a plan.”
If you’ve just been fired, have an illness, or lost a loved one, it’s hard to comprehend that in that instant there is a reason behind what is happening. It’s illogical to believe that any bad situation is for the best.
Later in life, we may find meaning in how we responded to these life events. We can often look back on life and we can see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But if we respond to our situations in an intentional manner, we will connect the pieces no matter what.
2. “I know how you feel.” / “I know what you’re going through.”
No, you probably don’t. You might be able to attempt to put yourself in someone’s shoes but you will never know personally how they feel.
Though everyone will at some point experience a loss or a bad situation, it is an overpoweringly personal experience. You’re never accurately able to feel how someone experiences loss and when you say you can, you are diminishing their feelings.
3. “You can always…” / “You will…”
- "You can always...have another child."
- “You can always… start dating again.”
- “You will get married again.”
When it comes to loss, it can sound like you are suggesting that a loved one is replaceable. The person experiencing the loss doesn't want someone or something else at that instant. “You can always” implies that a substitution is right around the corner.
4. “It’s probably PMS” or “Are You PMSing?”
It may be true but for the love of all that is good and great, do not ask the question. Hormones are a scary thing. Best just to leave it alone. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
5. "There’s always someone worse off than you."
Yes, you’re trying to help them see the bright side but someone who is going through a painful divorce may be in as much trauma as someone who is in bereavement. There’s no common sadness scale that applies to everyone. Not all people are sad in the same manner or to the same degree. It doesn’t help to compare one situation to another.
6. “That’s not age appropriate.”
I dare you. Go ahead and say that to me!
Clothing doesn’t come with warning labels or age suggestions, unless you are an infant or toddler.
7. “You’re too old to do that.”
There is no expiration date on dreams.
8. The Guilt Game: “Why did you…?” or “Why didn’t you...” That’s playing the blame game. You project the responsibility on to the person who is hurting. Now’s not the time to blame or make someone feel guilty.
- “Why did you let your son stay out that late?”
- “Why did you dress like that?”
- “It’s been a year. Why aren’t you over it yet?”
And to Veterans / Military
9. “Thank you for your service, but I don’t think we should have been in Iraq (or fill in the blank) in the first place.”
Not many people like war and everyone has an opinion about it. That’s great. You are entitled to your beliefs but in this case, just stop after “Thank you for your service.”
10. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
Don’t. Just don’t.
Over to you:
Share in with your experience. What was the most helpful thing someone said to you / did for you when you were hurting?
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Johnston Osburn is a Career and Life Coach who helps people turn dreams into realities. After years as a Global Talent Acquisition Professional, she realized how frequently people limit themselves because they lack belief in their abilities. They are afraid to dream, let alone dream big. [...]