What Not to Say to Someone Who's Suffering

“Helpful” words can do more harm than good.
What Not to Say to Someone Who's Suffering

“What you’re going through isn’t as awful as you think it is. And if you just had more faith or a more positive attitude, you would feel better. You need to cheer up and remember this is all for the best. I know, because my situation was much worse and I made it through joyfully. So if you need me for anything, advice or otherwise, just call.”

If those words don’t sound horrifying to you, perhaps you have never been the recipient of unhelpful “help.” I have been on the receiving end of insensitive comments and it’s been painful. But if I’m honest, I’ve offered untold thoughtless remarks as well.

We all want to support our friends who are struggling. We all want to offer the perfect insight that transforms their perspective. We all want to help them find joy in the present. But in our attempts to comfort, we often say the wrong thing, adding to their pain instead of alleviating it. I know because I’ve done that. Far too often.

When we dispense that kind of “help,” our friends feel judged, misunderstood, and lonely. Their burden feels heavier, not lighter. They don’t know if they can trust their hearts with anyone.

From being wounded to wounding others, I’ve learned five things not to do when a friend is suffering.

1. Minimize

There are countless ways to minimize another’s suffering, and most of them involve implying what she is going through really isn’t that bad. It’s not as bad as she is making it seem, not as bad as other people’s problems, and not as bad as it could be.

How it Can Sound:
  • Count your blessings. You have so much to be thankful for. Look on the bright side.
  • Compared to starving orphans in Africa, this is nothing. My neighbor has been through even more than you and was able to trust God through it. You should talk to her.
  • You should be over this by now. I’m not sure why it’s still such a big deal to you.
How it Can Make the Sufferer Feel:
When people minimize our struggles, it magnifies our pain.

Misunderstood. It may seem like refocusing our attention will help us forget our problems, but it usually has the opposite effect. When people minimize our struggles, it magnifies our pain. We feel judged. Unappreciated. It makes us want to explain our misery in excruciating detail, to get corroboration that our situation is difficult.

2. Criticize

Criticizing someone is passing unfavorable judgment on them or expressing disapproval. When life is falling apart, disapproval can feel like a dagger. Criticism wounds by implying the sufferer is not measuring up. Is somehow deficient. Is somehow unspiritual. Suffering friends need love and support, not condemnation. No one handles life perfectly; they don’t need to be reminded of their perceived failures.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a TCW regular contributor. A writer, speaker, mother, Vaneetha is passionate about helping people find joy in the midst of suffering. You can join Vaneetha in conversation about choosing joy in the midst of suffering at DanceInTheRain.com.

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Criticism; Encouragement; Friendship; Grief; Help; Suffering
Today's Christian Woman, January Week 4, 2015
Posted January 28, 2015

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