What do You Say to Someone Who is Hurting?

two men sits on bench in forest facing backward talking
by Vance Larson

Sometimes your world will go dark. All is silent. You speak and expect to hear an echo. But all you can hear is your breathing. Your allies are nowhere to be found. Your support system is un-supportive. Everything continues to pile on. You’ve been in a bad season before, but not like this. This by far is your darkest hour. Are you ready to give up?

There are no words to describe what they are going through. And there is nothing that you can say to make it better. So don’t. Don’t be the person to say that “It will be okay.” Because sometimes it won’t. Don’t be the person to say “I understand.” Just because you have been through something similar {or even the exact same thing}, everyone understands at the emotional level that they can currently comprehend. Don’t be the person to say “I know what you’re going through.” Because in reality you don’t. 

We mean well. But pain and suffering is a process. And although you have the best intentions, the quickest way to invalidate that process is to minimize or normalize it. I could not fathom doing this while responding to a crisis. And while it’s been years that I worked as a crisis counselor, to say to someone who has experienced a loss or sudden bad news “It’s going to be okay” is irresponsible. Because the fact is, we don’t know. Only God does.

Get back to the non verbal communication.

In all my years providing crisis work, I routinely would hear doctors say “We’re hopeful” or “We’re trying our best.” A persons pain can turn on a dime. A diagnosis can quickly become a bleak prognosis. People sometimes lose the will to live. The real help that we can offer someone in pain is presence. Be seen. Be felt. Be helpful. People experiencing a hard time or traumatic experience often want to be left alone. And saying things like “It’s going to be okay” for example, can sometimes throw someone into a tailspin. It can literally push them deeper into the darkness. Get back to the non verbal communication. 

Often times just sitting watching tv with someone offers great comfort. No words spoken. Just a beautiful reminder that they are not alone. A well timed hug or holding someone’s hand in a doctors office is a great sign of support and security. Dropping off a meal for someone, reminds them that they have not been forgotten, and that they still matter. This is where true connection, intimacy and healing take place. We must resist the urge to say things “Everything will be fine”.

We should listen. Pay attention to the non verbal communication. Be observant of their surroundings. It’s these little things that make a big difference. Its what we do. Not what we say. 

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