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Did you say what you weren't supposed to?




We've all been there, haven't we?


A friend, family member, or even a colleague comes to us, their hearts heavy with something personal, seeking a safe harbor in us.


And as they lay their burdens down, we, with the best intentions, try to offer comfort or advice. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, we might say things that aren't just unhelpful—they could even be hurtful.


Now, I know what you're thinking: "But I'm just trying to help!" And I believe you.


We all want to be the shoulder to lean on, the rock in the storm. But being a good listener, a true confidante, involves more than just lending an ear. It's about understanding, empathy, and knowing that sometimes, the best support is simply being there, not in the words we say but in the space we provide for someone to feel heard and validated.


So, buckle up!


We're about to explore the common pitfalls to avoid and share some tips on how to truly be there for someone when they need you most.


Whether you're a seasoned support-giver or just starting to learn the ropes of being a good friend or partner, this conversation is for you.


Let's learn together how to be the best confidantes we can be, by knowing what not to say when someone trusts us with their vulnerabilities. Because at the end of the day, it's not just about hearing them out—it's about helping them heal, without accidentally making the journey tougher with a misplaced word or two.


Let's get started!


Words That Heal: What to Say in Times of Need


It's not about grand gestures or perfectly crafted sentences; sometimes, the simplest affirmations can carry the most weight. Saying "I'm here for you," "You're not alone in this," or "Your feelings are valid," can make all the difference. These phrases don't try to fix the problem but acknowledge the person's pain and let them know they have your support.


To help you get started, here are some examples:




What Not to Say


Sometimes, well-meaning comments can backfire. Phrases like "It could be worse," or "They're in a better place now," can minimize the person's feelings or suggest their grief is misplaced. It's crucial to avoid making comparisons or using clichés that detract from the individual's unique experience.


Understanding why certain words can hurt

Words can hurt because they often come from our own discomfort with someone else's pain. We might rush to fill the silence, offer a solution, or make comparisons to 'help' the person see the 'bright side.' But true empathy involves sitting with the discomfort, acknowledging it, and respecting the other person's process without rushing it.


Understanding what not to say in sensitive situations is crucial because words can have a profound impact on someone's emotional state. Here are examples of phrases to avoid with explanations on why they might backfire:


  1. "Just cheer up." It oversimplifies complex emotions and can make someone feel misunderstood.

  2. "It could be worse." Minimizes the person's current feelings and experiences.

  3. "You're too sensitive." Invalidates their feelings and can make them feel ashamed for having them.

  4. "You'll get over it." Implies their issue is temporary and insignificant, lacking empathy.

  5. "Just let it go." Suggests that their problem is easily dismissible, overlooking the difficulty of their situation.

  6. "Everything happens for a reason." While intended to offer comfort, it can seem dismissive of the pain and confusion they're feeling.

  7. "I know exactly how you feel." Presumes too much and can feel insincere, as everyone's experiences and reactions are unique.

  8. "Stop thinking about it." Suggests that controlling one's thoughts is simple, which isn't the case for everyone.

  9. "Look on the bright side." Can come across as ignoring the real and valid concerns they have.

  10. "You just need to get out more." Implies that their problems are due to a lack of effort or social engagement, which can be oversimplifying and unhelpful.

Each of these phrases, while often said with the intention of helping, can inadvertently make the person feel more alone, misunderstood, or invalidated in their feelings.


How to Offer Help Without Over stepping your Boundaries?


Offering help without overstepping boundaries is crucial for maintaining respectful and healthy relationships. Here are three tips on how to do this effectively, with examples to guide you:


1. Ask Before You Act

Tip: Always seek permission before jumping in to help. This respects the individual's autonomy and ensures that your assistance is actually desired.


Example: Your friend is going through a tough time after a breakup. Instead of assuming they want to talk about it, you might say, "I noticed you seem a bit down. Would you like to talk about what's going on, or would you prefer some distraction? I'm here for whatever you need."


2. Be Specific in Your Offer of Help

Tip: Offer specific types of support so the person knows exactly what kind of help you're willing to provide. This makes it easier for them to accept help without feeling overwhelmed by a vague offer.


Example: Your colleague is swamped with work and feeling stressed. Instead of saying, "Let me know if you need anything," you could offer, "I have some free time this afternoon. Can I help by reviewing your report or organizing the client feedback for you?"


3. Respect Their Decision

Tip: If someone declines your offer of help, respect their decision without pushing further. They know their needs and limits best, and acknowledging this fosters mutual respect.


Example: Your sibling is struggling with a personal project. You offer to help, saying, "I see you're working hard on your project. I'd love to help out if you want, maybe with research or proofreading?" If they decline, you could respond, "No worries at all! Just know I'm here if you change your mind."


By following these tips, you can offer help in a way that is considerate and mindful of others' boundaries, which is key to supporting them effectively without causing discomfort or infringing on their personal space.


Your Empathy Toolkit: Strategies for Deepening Connection

Empathy isn't just about feeling for someone; it's about connecting on a deeper level and showing that you truly care. Here's how you can fine-tune your empathy skills, inspired by the insights of thought leaders like Sahil Bloom and Tony Robbins:


1. Embrace the Power of Active Listening

Listening is an art form. It’s about more than just hearing words; it’s about fully absorbing what the other person is expressing, both verbally and non-verbally. By giving your undivided attention, you create a space where the other person feels truly seen and heard. This is the cornerstone of genuine support and connection.


2. Offer Your Presence, Not Just Your Words

Sometimes, the most profound support comes from simply being there. In moments of need, your presence can offer a sense of safety and understanding that words alone cannot convey. It’s a powerful reminder that they don’t have to face their struggles alone.


3. Tailor Your Assistance by Asking

Rather than jumping in with solutions, take a step back and ask, “How can I support you in the way you need right now?” This approach respects their autonomy and acknowledges that they are the expert of their own experience. It’s a way to provide support that truly resonates.


4. Commit to Ongoing Education and Understanding

When faced with a situation or condition you’re not familiar with, make a commitment to learn more about it. Whether it’s through reading, podcasts, or conversations, gaining a deeper understanding shows you care beyond the surface level. It’s about walking alongside them in their journey, armed with knowledge and empathy.


5. Cultivate a Non-Judgmental Attitude

Approach every conversation with an open heart and mind. Reserve judgment and meet them where they are. It’s about creating a safe space where they can share openly without fear of criticism or dismissal. This non-judgmental stance is the bedrock of trust and empathy.


6. Reflect on Your Own Experiences

Use your own experiences of struggle or uncertainty as a bridge to understanding. While everyone’s experiences are unique, finding common ground can deepen empathy and connection. It’s a way to say, “I see you, and in some way, I understand what you might be feeling.”


7. Practice Patience and Compassion

Empathy is a journey, not a destination. It requires patience, both with yourself and with others. Recognize that healing and understanding take time, and offer compassion freely, even when progress seems slow.


8. Embrace Vulnerability

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can encourage others to do the same. It’s a powerful way to show that it’s okay not to have all the answers and that it’s okay to feel strong emotions. This shared vulnerability can be a profound source of connection and support.


9. Encourage Without Overstepping

Offer encouragement and positivity without overshadowing their feelings. It’s about striking a balance between offering hope and acknowledging their current experience. This delicate dance respects their feelings while also providing a gentle nudge towards resilience.


10. Remember, It’s About Them, Not You

Finally, in all your efforts to provide support, keep the focus squarely on their needs and feelings. It’s easy to inadvertently center ourselves and our experiences, but true empathy requires that we continually bring the focus back to the person we’re supporting.


By integrating these strategies into your interactions, you’re not just offering support; you’re building bridges of understanding and connection that can withstand the trials of life. It’s about being a beacon of empathy and compassion in a world that dearly needs it.


So, the next time you are afraid of what to say, read this first!







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2 Comments


A well delibrated and apt article in today'senvironment.

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Thanks a lot!

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