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8 Common Yet Ignorant Ways To Comfort A Person

8 Common Yet Ignorant Ways To Comfort A Person

When someone opens up to us about the struggles they are facing in their life, it can be tough trying to avoid the same tired old platitudes. When we sympathize with someone, we are acknowledging that they are suffering. This sounds great, but is actually insufficient if you really want to help someone through their problems. What people need during tough times is your empathy – the ability to enter into their pain with them, remain non-judgemental, and respect what they are feeling without trying to impose your own opinions. This can be tricky, because many of us were raised to be sympathetic rather than empathetic.

So, what shouldn’t you say when comforting someone who is facing emotional or psychological pain? Read on to find out what phrases you ought to avoid, and how you can demonstrate a more empathetic response instead.

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1. “At least…”

Do not minimize someone else’s suffering by saying something like, “Well, your marriage may be falling apart, but at least you have a partner!” These kind of responses divert attention away from the other person’s actual pain.

2. “Cheer up!”

The last thing anyone feeling low needs to hear is to be told to “cheer up.” Human emotions just don’t work like that – and if you truly attempt to understand someone else, you’ll know this to be the case. When was the last time anyone telling you to cheer up actually helped? Exactly! A much better approach is to respect the other person’s emotions.

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3. “Give yourself a deadline!”

Sometimes well-meaning people suggest setting a grieving or anger “deadline.” They may say something like, “Give yourself a couple of months to get over it,” or even, “It’s been six weeks now, why aren’t you over your breakup/miscarriage/etc.?” This approach overlooks the fact that everyone’s emotional processes are different, and what may be a small blip for one person may be a big deal for another.

4. “You’re so lucky compared to others!”

Yes, it can be a good idea to count one’s blessings from time to time. However, it isn’t helpful to hear this when you’re in the midst of emotional pain. Such phrases overlook the very real problems someone is facing in the present.

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5. “Let’s not talk about that any more, it’s depressing.”

If you find it hard to handle what you are hearing, find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation. Do not, under any circumstances, just tell the other person that you should talk about something more uplifting! It isn’t their job to bend in accordance with your wishes.

6. “Just keep busy.”

Another common piece of advice given to people undergoing emotional turmoil or depression is to “keep busy.” The trouble with this advice is that during difficult times it can be immensely hard to concentrate on “keeping busy” in the first place. In addition, distractions don’t make the underlying problem go away. Therefore, this suggestion is inappropriate.

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7. “I think what you should do is…”

A significant element of empathy is being able to remain non-judgemental towards the person who is telling you about their troubles. When you start trying to give advice or even telling them how to run their life, you are not being empathetic – you are merely being annoying and insensitive. Whilst you may want to “fix” this person, the more helpful response is simply to let them talk about whatever it is they are dealing with and to trust that they will discover a solution that works for them.

8. “Let me tell you about my experience…”

It can be tempting to try and relate someone else’s experiences to your own life history, but think carefully before telling them your own story. Do not dominate the conversation and make it all about you. Keep your attention on the other person, and if you have a past experience that you think may be relevant, ask them whether they would like to hear it before launching into an anecdote.

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Jay Hill

Jay writes about communication and happiness on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

For the original article by Celestine: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

“We all have problems. The way we solve them is what makes us different.” ~Unknown

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” – Hans Selye

Have you ever experienced moments when things just don’t go your way? For example, losing your keys, accidentally spilling your drink, waking up late, missing your buses/trains, forgetting to bring your things, and so on?

You’re not alone. All of us, myself included, experience times when things don’t go as we expect.

Here is my guide on how to deal with daily setbacks.

1. Take a step back and evaluate

When something bad happens, take a step back and evaluate the situation. Some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. Are you the only person facing this problem in the world today?
  3. How does this problem look like at an individual level? A national level? On a global scale?
  4. What’s the worst possible thing that can happen to you as a result of this?
  5. How is it going to impact your life in the next 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?

Doing this exercise is not to undermine the problem or disclaiming responsibility, but to consider different perspectives, so you can adopt the best approach for it. Most problems we encounter daily may seem like huge issues when they crop up, but most, if not all, don’t have much impact in our life beyond that day.

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2. Vent if you have to, but don’t linger on the problem

If you feel very frustrated and need to let off some steam, go ahead and do that. Talk to a friend, complain, crib about it, or scream at the top of your lungs if it makes you happy.

At the same time, don’t get caught up with venting. While venting may temporarily relieve yourself, it’s not going to solve the problem ultimately. You don’t want to be an energy vampire.

Vent if there’s a need to, but do it for 15 to 20 minutes. Then move on.

3. Realize there are others out there facing this too

Even though the situation may be frustrating, you’re not alone. Remember there are almost 7 billion people in the world today, and chances are that other people have faced the same thing before too. Knowing it’s not just you helps you to get out of a self-victimizing mindset.

4. Process your thoughts/emotions

Process your thoughts/emotions with any of the four methods:

  1. Journal. Write your unhappiness in a private diary or in your blog. It doesn’t have to be formal at all – it can be a brain dump on rough paper or new word document. Delete after you are done.
  2. Audio taping. Record yourself as you talk out what’s on your mind. Tools include tape recorder, your PC (Audacity is a freeware for recording/editing audio) and your mobile (most mobiles today have audio recording functions). You can even use your voice mail for this. Just talking helps you to gain awareness of your emotions. After recording, play back and listen to what you said. You might find it quite revealing.
  3. Meditation. At its simplest form, meditation is just sitting/lying still and observing your reality as it is – including your thoughts and emotions. Some think that it involves some complex mambo-jumbo, but it doesn’t.
  4. Talking to someone. Talking about it with someone helps you work through the issue. It also gets you an alternate viewpoint and consider it from a different angle.

5. Acknowledge your thoughts

Don’t resist your thoughts, but acknowledge them. This includes both positive and negative thoughts.

By acknowledging, I mean recognizing these thoughts exist. So if say, you have a thought that says, “Wow, I’m so stupid!”, acknowledge that. If you have a thought that says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me again”, acknowledge that as well.

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Know that acknowledging the thoughts doesn’t mean you agree with them. It’s simply recognizing the existence of said thoughts so that you can stop resisting yourself and focus on the situation on hand.

6. Give yourself a break

If you’re very stressed out by the situation, and the problem is not time sensitive, then give yourself a break. Take a walk, listen to some music, watch a movie, or get some sleep. When you’re done, you should feel a lot more revitalized to deal with the situation.

7. Uncover what you’re really upset about

A lot of times, the anger we feel isn’t about the world. You may start off feeling angry at someone or something, but at the depth of it, it’s anger toward yourself.

Uncover the root of your anger. I have written a five part anger management series on how to permanently overcome anger.

After that, ask yourself: How can you improve the situation? Go to Step #9, where you define your actionable steps. Our anger comes from not having control on the situation. Sitting there and feeling infuriated is not going to change the situation. The more action we take, the more we will regain control over the situation, the better we will feel.

8. See this as an obstacle to be overcome

As Helen Keller once said,

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Whatever you’re facing right now, see it as an obstacle to be overcome. In every worthy endeavor, there’ll always be countless obstacles that emerge along the way. These obstacles are what separate the people who make it, and those who don’t. If you’re able to push through and overcome them, you’ll emerge a stronger person than before. It’ll be harder for anything to get you down in the future.

9. Analyze the situation – Focus on actionable steps

In every setback, there are going to be things that can’t be reversed since they have already occurred. You want to focus on things that can still be changed (salvageable) vs. things that have already happened and can’t be changed. The only time the situation changes is when you take steps to improve it. Rather than cry over spilt milk, work through your situation:

  1. What’s the situation?
  2. What’s stressing you about this situation?
  3. What are the next steps that’ll help you resolve them?
  4. Take action on your next steps!

After you have identified your next steps, act on them. The key here is to focus on the actionable steps, not the inactionable steps. It’s about regaining control over the situation through direct action.

10. Identify how it occurred (so it won’t occur again next time)

A lot of times we react to our problems. The problem occurs, and we try to make the best out of what has happened within the context. While developing a healthy coping mechanism is important (which is what the other helping points are on), it’s also equally important, if not more, to understand how the problem arose. This way, you can work on preventing it from taking place next time, vs. dealing reactively with it.

Most of us probably think the problem is outside of our control, but reality is most of the times it’s fully preventable. It’s just a matter of how much responsibility you take over the problem.

For example, for someone who can’t get a cab for work in the morning, he/she may see the problem as a lack of cabs in the country, or bad luck. However, if you trace to the root of the problem, it’s probably more to do with (a) Having unrealistic expectations of the length of time to get a cab. He/she should budget more time for waiting for a cab next time. (b) Oversleeping, because he/she was too tired from working late the previous day. He/she should allocate enough time for rest next time. He/she should also pick up better time management skills, so as to finish work in lesser time.

11. Realize the situation can be a lot worse

No matter how bad the situation is, it can always be much worse. A plus point vs. negative point analysis will help you realize that.

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12. Do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it

No matter how bad your situation may seem, do your best, but don’t kill yourself over it. Life is too beautiful to worry so much over daily issues. Take a step back (#1), give yourself a break if you need to (#6), and do what you can within your means (#9). Everything else will unfold accordingly. Worrying too much about the outcome isn’t going to change things or make your life any better.

13. Pick out the learning points from the encounter

There’s something to learn from every encounter. What have you learned from this situation? What lessons have you taken away?

After you identify your learning points, think about how you’re going to apply them moving forward. With this, you’ve clearly gained something from this encounter. You’ve walked away a stronger, wiser, better person, with more life lessons to draw from in the future.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] What To Do When Things Don’t Go Your Way

Featured photo credit: Alice Donovan Rouse via unsplash.com

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