Here it is: “I know how you feel.”
Why: Because you don’t. Nobody can truly feel how you feel and it minimizes the situation the other person is going through.
There are many variations of this sentence. “I have XYZ which is like what you have or are going through.” Some are absolutely idiotic in their correlation. You lost your mom? I lost my dog therefore I understand your grief. And then there are the veiled versions: My children are 9 months apart, it’s like having twins. Here’s the thing, none of those are true and at best the receiver rolls their eyes at you. At the worst, you hurt the other person.
We cannot truly understand what another person is going through unless we have TRULY been through the same thing. I will NEVER understand what a miscarriage is like nor the devastation of losing a child. I have not lost a parent or my spouse. Can we empathize with someone who is going through this? YES, 100x’s over, but we cannot appreciate it until we have lived it.
I have triplets and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that someone has children close together so it’s like having triplets or that they’ve babysit multiples so they know what it is like. I felt discounted and that what I was feeling wasn’t a big deal.
What should we do instead of saying we know what they are feeling?
- “I’m sorry.” It seems too simple but it conveys a lot of feeling. Follow up with a hug if warranted (or the person is receptive) and let them be the one to initiate the end of it. Cry with them if you will.
- Proactively set up a time to come help. Example, “I am free Thursday or Friday to bring you a meal. Which day works best?” or my favorite “I’m heading to Target, can I pick up anything for you?”
- Send a card or flowers or a note “thinking of you.”
- Make sure they are home and then drop in (this should be reserved for close friends…do NOT stop in on someone who’s home you have never visited unless pre-arranged). Don’t even ask what needs done. Clean. Fold laundry or start loads and finish them. Make freezer meals. Watch their kids so they can get out of the home or so they can nap.
- Play Secret “Santa” and perform random acts of kindness. I once dropped off TP, paper towels and a few other necessities at the door of a grieving mom. It blessed them and me at the same time.
- Say “that sounds (tough, exciting, challenging, etc.), tell me about it.” Allow the other person to tell you about what they are going through.