Note: This is a guest post from Mike Foster. Mike is the Founder & Chief Chance Officer of People of the Second Chance. Mike creates tools that help hurting people find freedom. Check out his latest course, Rescue Academy .
Have you ever said something you wish you could take back?
I once asked a friend if she was pregnant, and she wasn’t! Another time, I made a male friend cry due to my personal frustration with his choices.
Regardless of our best intentions, it’s easy to stick our foot in our mouth, especially when trying to help someone through hurt. Trust me, I’ve done it so many times I’ve lost count.
Though pain and loss are universal themes in all of our lives, we still struggle with knowing what to do, or what to say, or how to respond when it comes to helping others in their struggles.
What do I say to my sister who just miscarried her baby?
What advice should I give to my friend who is struggling with an eating disorder?
Am I responsible for fixing everyone’s problems?
How do I help people without shaming them or judging their actions?
Should I send a card, flowers, or cookies, or should I call when tragedy strikes?
It is true that, sometimes, the most basic questions leave us feeling confused or overwhelmed, and often prevent us from getting involved at all in people’s suffering.
But this shouldn’t scare us away from being rescuers to those around us. Instead, it should keep us aware of the power our words have.
I want to see a world full of not-so-perfect people rescuing other not-so-perfect-people from their hurts and hang-ups with words that are like grace-filled snow cones on a hot judgmental day.
Sometimes, it just takes a few small adjustments. For example, here are four things you should never say to someone who’s hurting.
1. Don’t say, “At least… ”
If someone has just experienced loss or is dealing with a tragedy, the last thing you want to say is, “At least you still have…”
For example, if your friend has just had a miscarriage, it’s not helpful to say, “Well, at least you have other children.”
It’s important that we never minimize anyone’s problems. This statement can actually make the situation worse. Not only that, it also makes you look incredibly insensitive.
Bottom line: Don’t ever use that phrase if you want to be a rockstar rescuer.
2. Don’t ever say, “Why did you… ?”
This statement puts blame, responsibility, and additional shame on the hurting person.
For example, if your friend has just told you her teenage daughter got caught with drugs, don’t respond with, “Why did you let her go to that party?”
If your friend’s car gets stolen, don’t say, “Why did you leave the door unlocked?”
Our natural tendency is to be curious about the details, but asking Why? questions in the middle of someone’s suffering usually isn’t helpful.
3. Avoid saying, “Don’t cry.”
Tears are a natural physiological release of psychological symptoms. We need to let others express their emotions and deal with grief the way the body intends.
Trying to control someone’s grieving process will never be effective. Usually, we say, “Don’t cry” because we feel uncomfortable and want to do something to alleviate the tension of the situation.
In this case, the best something to do is nothing. Simply remain silent, and let the body do what it needs to do.
Just remember: in that moment, it’s about the hurting person, not you.
4. Don’t ever utter the words, “God has a plan.”
This might be the most overused cliché that we default to when trying to help. Try to avoid using this statement if you can.
When people are dealing with serious grief or pain, don’t start problem-solving for them. Fight the tendency to try to comfort the person with a silver lining or by refocusing on the future.
A statement like, “I don’t even know what to say right now, but I’m so glad you told me” is much better than trying to fix the problem.
Allow people to grieve. Resist the urge to get to the happy ending by using clichés.
There’s a pattern here for all of us: becoming a good rescuer is less about what you can add and more about what you can subtract. Simplicity. Brevity. Silence. These are the brushes of a master rescue artist, an expert in the style of minimalism.
What was the most helpful thing someone did for you when you were experiencing pain? Share in the comments.