“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”
― Sarah Dessen,
I think of myself as an optimistic person. For the most part, I try to see the best in people and situations. However, in the event that I am not feeling very optimistic or hopeful, the worst thing you can say to me is “Oh, you’ll be fine” or “It’s going to work out.”
These responses make me want to, simultaneously, scream and cry out in rage. It feels like I’m being ignored. These feelings are not because I do not believe you. I am sure things will be fine and will work out. The problem is in the right now, that is not the case. I need you to be in the right now with me.
A more understanding approach would be “I can see that this is hard for you” or “you look like you’re having a hard time?” The goal, as a listener, is not to fix the problem. The goal is to make the person expressing their thoughts feel validated and heard.
It is not so much about what will be fine as much as what is in terms of how I feel right now.
As we talked about in the post of Validation: The Ninja Skill, I have the right to feel and think the way I do, even if your perception is different. In my moments of sadness or hopelessness, I need the people that love me to be willing to sit with those feelings as opposed to trying to fix them or force me out of them.
The same is true for when I am feeling hopeful about something. I would like it if you could share in that hopefulness, as opposed to telling me all the reasons it might not work. My worried brain has canvased the Dreadful What If Land terrain and I know that land mines can and will pop up.
I think, If you love someone, you have to be willing to meet them where they are and just listen to them. This demonstrates that you are willing to sit with them without fixing anything. Ultimately, we are not broken and needing to be fixed we just feel broken.
If I may suggest, please refrain from phrases like:
You will be fine
This will work out
She or He is in a better place (even if you/we/they believe in Heaven, this can feel invalidating during grief)
I know how you feel (that’s impossible)
This is what you should do______
I cannot talk right now
Ignore the person
You are always so dramatic
Ask how do you always end up in these situations?
I cannot imagine what this is like for you
I am so sorry this is happening
It looks like you are feeling pretty overwhelmed?
Is there anything I can do?
Do you need anything?
Some people do find themselves in bad situations again and again, and I am in no way obligated to go through those situations every time to demonstrate my support. In that event, I can say “I cannot be there for you like I wish could.”
This is an example of communicating honest, kind, and healthy boundaries
In my own experience, I tend to use “you’ll be fine” expressions with people I love the most. It’s selfish on my part because it hurts me to see them hurting and I just want all the hurt to stop. It is partly my attempt to convince myself that it will be fine. Sometimes, it’s a reflexive response that may unintentionally communicate that I do not care about how you are feeling.
I think we all just want to feel like our feelings matter to another person.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne