We all want the best for our loved ones. We want our loved ones to be there for us, too. But when it comes time to be that support system for the ones we care about, we sometimes say things that may feel like they’re helpful, but have the potential to be harmful too. No one ever means it and no one ever wants to give bad advice intentionally, but sometimes when our emotions get into the mix of things, we say things that have a lot more weight than we’re giving consideration for at the time that they’re said.
In college, I had a sociology professor that always said “good intentions pave the way to hell.” The point of him saying this was to remind us that although we all have the best interest and intentions in mind, if we are unable to clearly communicate those intentions, those intentions can get lost in translation. Here are a few common phrases that we might want to take a second and think about before we utter to those we love:
Common Phrase #1: “Everything is going to be okay.”
We’ve all said it. And most of the time, we’ve had confidence in knowing this statement is most likely true. It’s also ambiguous enough that it doesn’t specify a timeframe of WHEN everything will be okay, but it’s a hopeful promise that someday, somewhere in the near/distant future, it will be. The sentiment behind this is an innocent one, but what it also does is provide a false sense of control to a situation that might not be controllable.
We can’t predict the future and although in some ways, things might resolve and “be okay,” in some other ways, they might not. We should be considering that in an unfortunate case where things might NOT be okay, that our loved ones are still loved and that even if things never become okay, they still have our support.
The Better Way to Say It: “I’m here for you.”
Our involvement with someone is something we CAN control. We can communicate to them what we can do for them and if it’s nothing at all other than being someone they can talk to, that’s all that needs to be said. Saying “I’m here for you” is a soft invitation to the person that your door is open and that they can come to you if they need to. It doesn’t offer any promises that you will always be there or that you have all the answers. It simply states that if they need to lean on you, they can.
Common Phrase #2: “Just give it time” / “Time heals all wounds.”
It doesn’t, though. Time CAN heal many things, but there’s a caveat to that: Only if you ALLOW time to heal you can it actually heal you. We can sit for 20, 30, 40 years stewing over a hurt that we haven’t learned to let go of thinking that we just have to wait out the years for the pain to subside. It doesn’t work that way and it will never work that way. We have a responsibility with the time we’re given to heal ourselves. The element of time alone does not heal anything. Even though one can argue that this is implied within the statement that “time heals,” why open up the opportunity for your words to be misconstrued?
The Better Way to Say It: “Take your time” / “Time is your friend.”
Everyone recovers at a different pace. Everyone operates a little differently. If it takes one person 10 years of self-discovery before that healing comes, then so be it. Another person might just need the summer and be right back to normal. However long it takes, reassuring others that they don’t need to rush can lower their anxiety and their expectation of how soon things are “supposed” to turn around. With as deeply saturated as our society is these days with social media and instant technology, sometimes we forget that time hasn’t really gone anywhere, only our perception of it has. Reminding ourselves as well as others that we are ALLOWED to take our time is a more positive outlook we could all use when we feel rushed in today’s world.
Common Phrase #3: “You’ll figure it out.”
Have you ever been told this? When you’re hurt and confused and you’re looking for some sort of reasoning and all your buddy can tell you with glossy eyes is “don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.” Was it helpful?
Now, I understand that this phrase could also be taken as a compliment. If you have friends that have said this to you before, it’s because they believe in you and see you as a strong person who will find a solution. Sometimes, it’s their polite way of saying “I don’t know how to help you, but I know you’re going to make it through this.”
No one ever has bad intentions with saying what they say, but saying something as inconclusive as “you’ll figure it out” can feel like you’re trying to gain distance. It can feel like you don’t want to be involved in the process of whatever this person is going through. Whether this may or may not be the case, it’s an answer that isn’t really an answer and it’s a confusing one at that.
The Better Way to Say It: “I have confidence in you.”
This is what we really mean to say, isn’t it? What we’re TRYING to say to our hurting pals is “I’m confident you will overcome this.” So why not just say it straight out? Let’s not be cryptic when our friends are already emotionally taxed. Sometimes when we’re all drained, we just need to hear from someone that they haven’t given up on us. Although “you’ll figure it out” may fleetingly boost our egos for being self-sufficient and tough, it drops us pretty quickly again when we HAVEN’T figured it all out yet. Knowing that someone has confidence in us regardless of what we do or don’t figure out might just be what we all need to find that confidence again when we’ve lost it.
It won’t always be easy to adjust these learned habits, but if we can all start to try to aim for a better way to say we’re there for each other, maybe we’ll start to remember that all of us DO have support somewhere and we don’t have to be afraid to call on it if we need to.