I Don’t Know What To Say: How To Show Empathy For Others After A Traumatic Experience
When something bad happens to a friend or family member, it’s often a challenge to find something to say. It can be awkward, but that’s okay too. We want to fall back on common phrases we’ve learned over the years that rarely help anyone to feel better.
“Time heals all wounds.”
“She’s in a better place now.”
“This too shall pass.”
When we use these phrases, it doesn’t help us connect with how the person is actually feeling. It’s not that we do this on purpose, it’s just because it’s what we know and have heard others say to us. When we can use true empathy, we connect to what the other person is feeling. We connect with their pain and are trying to understand how they are feeling.
A better approach is about action rather than words. Listening is a great place to start. People in pain want validation that what they are experiencing is a challenge. Acknowledge their pain and how they are feeling.
“That sounds tough.”
“Wow, that’s terrible.”
“I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.”
“Of course that’s painful.”
You don’t have to totally get it, but whatever you do, don’t diminish their feelings or their experience of what happened. Share your own feelings and don’t afraid to say that you don’t know what to say.
“I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through right now.”
“I wish I could take away your pain.”
“It makes me sad to know this is what you’re dealing with.”
Let them know that you are grateful they chose you to open up to because it shows they trust you. It’s an honor that they did and don’t be afraid to acknowledge that it may have been hard for them to do so. You are establishing yourself as a safe harbor where they can safely be vulnerable.
“Thank you for trusting me enough to share your experience.”
“I’m honored that you shared this with me.”
“Thank you for opening up to me.”
When you show interest, it’s opening the door for connection. Everyone wants that and especially those who are going through challenging times. This is the time to listen to them and let them share with you.
“How are you feeling about everything?”
“What I heard you say is _____. Is that right?”
“What has this been like for you?”
Take time to encourage your friend or family member. Everyone needs encouragement and that’s especially true when going through a rough patch. Don’t try to fix their problems or try to make them look on the bright side. This is a great time to share what you admire about them and remind them that they are loved.
“You are a true warrior.”
“I’m on your side.”
“I’m proud of you.”
Show you care: give hugs, send flowers or handwritten cards, offer to help around the house. These are actions that helps them to feel loved and supported.
“What can I do to help?”
“What do you need?”
“I’m here when you need me.”
It can be difficult to support our loved ones going through hard times, but it can make all the difference to them when we make the effort. The worst of times often lead to isolation, despair, and loneliness. Take time to show your support and that you care. The empathetic approach is much stronger than empty words. We hope this will give you the words and actions you need to help a loved one.