All of us have either said something we regret, or been on the receiving end of remarks that were supposed to be helpful, but turned out instead to be hurtful.
So why do insensitive and downright dumb things pop out of the mouths of people who truly mean well, especially in response to serious health situations? The short answer: human nature.
First Things First, Avoid These Words
In our article 7 Things You Should Never Say to Patients or Caregivers, we offered tips on how to keep foot and mouth a fair distance apart.
As a reminder, pinch yourself—really hard—if any of these words ever begin to tumble from your lips:
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “This is God’s plan.”
- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
- “At least it’s not cancer.”
- “Just think positive thoughts.”
- “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
- “At least you have one healthy child.”
Why Do People Say Such Things?
If you’re reading this, you may be looking for an answer the age-old question, “Why do smart people say dumb things?”
The truth is, people almost always mean well. Most CaringBridge users would probably find this to be true. But sometimes when people are trying to say they care, or that they feel really bad about what is happening, things get muddy. Here are a few reasons why someone might put their foot in their mouth:
- They may feel nervous about making you feel worse
- Lack of experience talking about hardships or loss
- They may be suffering from their own hardship and struggling to cope
- They think cliché sayings are what people want to hear
The most important thing you can do in an uncomfortable situation like this is to remember that no one is perfect, and even the closest people in our lives may just need some guidance when it comes to what to say.
Translate the Message
It is often helpful to look for the sentiments that lie behind clumsy expressions. What are people actually trying to say when the wrong words come spewing out?
Probably they are trying to say they feel terrible, and would do anything to take away pain and suffering. It’s just not easy to say. CaringBridge users have said that nearly every mangled communication about a health situation is an attempt to express one or more of the following:
- “I care.”
- “You’re so strong.”
- “I have faith that you’re going to get through this.”
- “I’m here for you.”
- “My story that is similar shows I have a glimmer of what you may be going through.”
The next time someone stumbles, try mentally replacing the words they say with one of the previous sayings. Remember that the last thing they’re trying to do is make things worse for you.
When others lack the verbal skills to comfort you, this is an opportunity for you to step in and be honest about what you need to hear, and also about what you don’t. The more comfortable you get with sharing what you need, the more others will be able to give it to you.
Care to Share Your Own Tips?
Please add to the conversation by sharing in the “Comment” section below how you may have translated the actual meaning of something that has been poorly said.