What To Say And Not To Say To Someone Going Through A Crappy Time

Despite most of us having family and friends that we love, some of them - even with the best intentions - say some pretty stupid things when trying to comfort you through a tough time.

We asked our Facebook and Twitter fans: what ridiculous things do people say to you when you're going through a bad time? Of all the questions we've asked on Facebook and Twitter, this one seemed to really strike a nerve.

The problem isn't that people are going out of their way to be insensitive. Ironically for a lot of people giving advice or administering tough love, this seems to be their way of showing support.

For others, if they have never experienced divorce, bereavement, illness or serious trauma, they just don't know what the right thing is to say in a situation. So we've put together some points of what to say and not say, so that you a) actually comfort your friend and b) don't piss them off.

Don't say:

1. Think Positive

Of all the phrases, this ranks among the worst. Not only is it unhelpful and unimaginative, it comes off as an indirect dig, implying that by refusing to smile and think happy thoughts, you're somehow letting yourself down. It also hints that maybe if you thought positive, things wouldn't be so bad. But they are bad, and no amount of Noel Edmonds style 'ask the universe and it will happen' hoodoo is going to change that.

2. I Know What You're Going Through

Unless you are a conjoined twin, it is highly unlikely that you or anyone else will know what your friend is going through. This was one of the key peeves among our social media users.

Facebook follower Joy Dehany said: "Never say "I know how you feel" because you don't. Every one experiences things differently and to presume how they feel and worse ramble on how you were in a similar situation is insulting and selfish. If someone trusts you enough to tell you how much they are hurting just listen to them without judgement. It's fine to say "I understand" and bring them some tea. All a distressed person usually wants is to be listened to without any "advice"."

3. (After A Separation) I Never Liked Him/Her Anyway

Or - "You're better off without him/her". Divorce and/or separation is not the same as you breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Often, it's composed of many shades of grey: sadness that the relationship is over, the disappointment that something they really believed in no longer works, and dealing with other people's emotions around it from parents to children.

Your friend is probably already going through and agonising over decisions they could have made differently, signs they should have been looking out for (in cases of fidelity or betrayal of trust). What they don't need is having to deal with your disapproval - even if in your head it sounds like support.

4. Invoking God

Some people find faith a very comforting source when things go pear-shaped. But others find religion really hard to deal with especially when they feel like they are dealing with something that they didn't deserve, or that they perceive to be unfair.

Facebook follower Nola Anne d'Enis said:" I asked the vicar to leave when he said that it would comfort me to know that he likened me to the mother of Jesus "who, as you know, also lost her child".

June Swift adds: "My parents were killed in a road accident and someone said to me "God works in a mysterious way his wonders to perform!" I wanted to hit her!!"

Saying God works in mysterious ways or will take care of things, to some people, is like saying that if you're good, Santa will bring you lots of presents. You have to accept that not everyone believes in divine justice.

5. Everything Will Be Fine

This may sound like reassurance, but it isn't. To the person going through the hard time, they already know things won't be fine. They may be fine eventually, of course, but as you, their friend, aren't omnipotent, you don't know if their husband won't leave them or if they'll recover from cancer.

6. Random Cliches

Silence is infinitely preferable to "time is a great healer", "there are plenty of more fish in the sea", "he had good innings" and "only the good die young".

7. There's Always Someone More Worse Off Than You Are

We realise what you're trying to do here: give us some perspective and use the misery of others to jolt us into 'snapping out of it'. But misery is relative and specific to your own situation. Someone who is going through a divorce may be just a miserable as someone who has suffered a bereavement - there is no imaginary high court doling out points over who gets to be the most sad.

During times of distress, there is almost always a certain amount of psychological trauma that accompanies it, and your friend has to be able to grieve at whatever it is they have lost. Try not to make them feel guilty about the fact that they have a bad situation, and are completely entitled to act unreasonable if they want to.

8. They Are In A Better Place

On the subject of bereavement, when people say this, Facebook follower Lennie Davies asks: "Really?? How do you know? I'd rather be on the beach then dead or rotting in the ground."

What You Can Do

  • Say: "Is there anything I can do or get you to make life a bit easier just now?" says Marlyn Clarke. Or "I'm here whenever you need me." (And actually mean it).
  • Don't push your friend into meeting up or inviting yourself over unless they say it's okay (or you're genuinely worried about their safety).
  • Listen to what they're telling you - they don't need advice, just compassion and support.

If you feel like you still need to say something helpful, rather than 'everything will be fine', just say in a firm, supportive voice: "you will get through this."