I think many people are uncomfortable with negative emotions and feelings. Typically, one doesn’t receive a life threatening diagnosis and say a lot of positive things about it, even if they are working towards helping themselves. When someone is hurting or just sharing, it is nice to be listened to, empathized with and to know that others are there for you. Below are some tips on what to not say and helpful things to say.
It is tempting to do some of the following:
- You might want to help them to find meaning in their situation by saying something like, “This is a great opportunity for you to think about like differently.” While you probably mean well, allow the person to make their own meaning with it in their own time.
- Go to religion: “God will know what is best. Put it in his hands.” Now, I know that is true for some people, but others may not feel the say way about religion and this also minimizes how the person is feeling.
- Try to cheer them up by changing the subject. They could learn to suppress their emotions or not talk to you about them.
- Tell them that everything will be okay. When dealing with illness, there are no guarantees. This can minimize how the person is feeling. It could also feel like putting a band-aid on a large wound.
- Try to fix it for them by telling them what to do to change things. The person dealing with the illness has probably spend a lot of time thinking about this. They might not know one of the ideas that you have, but they might not be in a place to hear it either. If the person wants to brainstorm with you, that changes things a bit.
- “Stay positive” While staying positive could be helpful. It is important that people express themselves and allow themselves to feel their emotions. Sometimes people learn to feel shame in addition to whatever feeling they are having that is “not positive” due to being told to stay positive or people avoiding talking to them when they are not saying positive things.
Best things to do:
- Face your own fears about the subject of illness and death. Make sure that those feelings are not interfering with your ability to be supportive to others.
- Learn about empathy
- Try to be able to sit with your loved ones when they need you. Sitting in pain with them can be difficult, but healing
- The illness isn’t the person, so don’t focus on it constantly. There is an interesting balance here. We probably over think it. It can be as simple as “how are you doing today?” Go from there.
- Hugs. Some people love hugs and they release feel good hormones.
- “I am here for you”
- Just listening to them
- Asking “What do you need from me right now? I want to be there for you.” They may not know the answer to that question and may want something different each time the talk to you.
- Give space if they need it
- Make yourself available more often
- Spend time with them doing things you both enjoy. Have fun.
- Before offering solutions, ask if they would like your help brainstorming ideas to solve some of the problems that they mentioned. This would be done after a good time of listening to the person to really understand what is going on and to help them feel heard first.