When someone is dealing with a heartache or trauma, there is nothing you can do to make the pain go away. Yes, you can be there for them, and can offer them your presence. And silent empathy can help them feel much less alone.
But there are things that people say that do not help the situation. That’s rarely their intention – for they usually want to help. But when we are in crisis, we are vulnerable and bleeding. Thus, you need to tread more carefully, and think about your words.
Things to avoid when someone’s dealing with a trauma include:
1. “I know how bad it is; the same thing happened to me.” Everyone’s experience is different and unique so you don’t really know what they are going through, at all. Also, the spotlight is on them, and their experience, right now. It isn’t about you, or all the heartache you’ve been through.
2. “I know it’s bad but, honestly, it could have been even worse.” For a traumatized person this is shocking beyond words. They’re reeling from what happened, and their world’s been torn apart. Don’t minimize the damage, or the sorrow and the pain.
3. “It’ll all work out in the end.” This isn’t reassuring (even though it’s meant to help). The truth is: life’s uncertain. You don’t have a crystal ball. And things might not get better. You don’t know what lies ahead.
4. “I’m sure they didn’t mean to cause you so much grief and pain.” The aggressor’s motivations are irrelevant to them. Their life’s been blown apart by choices someone else has made. They’re paying a high price for something someone else has done. This person is a victim, and their suffering’s undeserved.
5. “I’m sure it would help if you could try and talk about it.” It only helps to talk if the traumatized person feels that they want to talk about it … and they genuinely feel that the listener is someone who is safe and understanding.
6. “Here’s what you need to do …” This is highly disrespectful and it smacks of a quick fix. A band aid will not help them when we are deeply traumatized. There are layers and layers of damage, and it’s going to take some time to understand the impact this has had upon their life.