These days, it’s a lot harder for me to find the right words to say when trying to comfort people who are struggling or dealing with heartaches. It’s not because I don’t care enough, but because I don’t want to make the situation worse. And so I always have to ask myself a number of times: “Is what I’m about to say really going to help this person?” I have to mull it over, type, delete, repeat.
It wasn’t always this difficult. I used to ‘know’ what to say whenever a friend was in pain, or a coworker was stressed, or an acquaintance was feeling down in the dumps. I always had a response ready, something to ‘lift their spirits.’
‘You’re heartbroken? You’re too fabulous to be sad! You work for the boss from hell? You’re lucky to have a job! Your day isn’t going well? Think happy thoughts and good things will come your way!’
I meant well, but I wish I knew better. As I learned the hard way, some words, no matter how well intentioned, can be damaging.
I remember going through really low points in my life and hearing things that were supposed to help me but didn’t. They came from family and friends who only wanted to help. I heard the usual stuff. Like movie and television scripts, they were very pop culture. They were ‘good old’ pieces of advice, words of wisdom, and inspirational quotes we all grew up with.
I’ve been told:
– to stop crying
– to not feel sad
– to pray and have faith
– to think positive
– I couldn’t possibly be depressed because I am so blessed
– I have no reason to feel down
– my time to grieve is up and it’s time to move on
– I need to snap out of it
– there are people with far worse problems than mine
These are nothing new. We’ve heard all these before. But while these words were crafted to bring comfort, they can sometimes do more harm than good.
After years and years of hearing this script play on in my life whenever I hit my lows, I stopped finding comfort in them. Instead, I started feeling emptier and lonelier. I couldn’t understand why none of these words that were supposed to help me worked. I was confused, and I was longing for words that could help me.
As I tried to find words that heal in unfamiliar places and new endeavors–volunteer work, spiritual retreats, fellowship, counseling, hikes–I realized that that old script isn’t the only script. Those aren’t the only words I can hear and accept in my life.
– It’s okay to cry.
– You are allowed to feel sad.
– Prayers and positive thinking may not always make you feel better, and that’s fine.
– You can have a good life and still feel down.
– Your feelings are valid.
– It’s up to you to define your experience, figure out how you’re going to heal and for how long.
– You can’t just snap out of it, sleep it off, or pray/wish it away, and be fine the next day.
– Your experience is yours, nobody else’s, and you don’t need to be deprived of it because others ‘have it worse.’
I’m still struggling to rewrite the old script in my head. I’m still continuously searching for healing words in unfamiliar territories, exciting adventures, terrifying new endeavors, and blossoming relationships. It took me a while to break out of the rather outdated script I was in, but I’m glad I did.
Some days, I fail to speak words that heal. Sometimes, I fail to say anything at all. But if there is one thing I can be certain of, it’s that I can be there to listen.