Most people really do want to help. They’re sincere about trying to ease others’ pain or give them a boost over the hurdle. But despite our best intentions, some of the things we say and do out of ignorance only end up making things worse.
When someone’s really suffering, our first instinct is to smooth it over. We try to minimize the problem and encourage them to look on the bright side. Or we offer reasons why things could be worse and come up with examples of people who have it harder than they do. We give patronizing advice and spout simplistic cliches.
“Things aren’t as bad as they could be.”
“We’ve all got stuff we have to deal with.”
“If you couldn’t take it, God never would have let it happen.”
Listen, if you really want to help someone…
Stop trivializing their trials!
The word tells us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), not to pretend like they don’t exist. People are going through some seriously hard situations. Some of it’s external and pretty obvious. And some of it’s on the inside where you can’t even see it. Mental illness, for example, is very real. And your inability to perceive it or comprehend it doesn’t make it any less real.
Every time you make light of someone’s load, you make it that much heavier to bear.
Doing so can make a person feel more isolated and alone. Dismissive reactions can make the person who’s struggling feel unsupported, like they’re not even worth anyone’s attempts to truly understand or assist. And the emotional island they’re living on just starts to seem even smaller and more deserted.
Making light can also add to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. When everyone around you is pretending like your problems are easy to solve, you can really start to feel stupid for not being able to solve them! Dismissive reactions can make the person who’s struggling feel increasingly incapable and incompetent.
And on top of all that, playing down people’s pain makes them feel like not only are they carrying a big burden, they are a big burden. Dismissive reactions can make the person who’s struggling feel like they’re adding to everyone else’s struggles. Like they’re the weakest link in the family. That if only they could get it together, then everybody would be happier. Like they’re the weight dragging the whole thing down and that everyone would be better off without them. And those are some very dangerous feelings to have.
Why do you do me like you do?
Sometimes our attempts to minimize are motivated by our own experiences with pain. Maybe you didn’t get the empathy you were hoping for when you were hurting. Maybe no one offered the sympathy and support you felt you needed during a tough time. And if no one gave it to you, why should you give to anyone else? That’s clearly selfish thinking, and most of us never want to see ourselves in that light. But if we’re honest, there’s often a bit of lingering resentment that reveals itself in our reactions to other people’s pain.
And sometimes we trivialize the trouble because we’ve already come through it. Time tends to heal the wounds and dull the pain. Something that was excruciating at the time is now a distant memory. And that distance has helped us forget how much it actually hurt. The mind has a way of glossing over the not-so-pleasant parts. So when we’re “encouraging” others with how bad it really isn’t, we’re doing it because we’ve long since repressed how bad it really was.
Learn from the Master
Jesus never spoke down to people who were suffering or minimized the pain they were experiencing. He never made them feel less spiritual or less intelligent or less worthy because they struggled. When someone was crying, He didn’t make them feel like there was no good reason for all those tears. Never once did He bring up how bad someone else was doing to make a person feel better about their situation.
Jesus dealt with the causes of people’s pain even as He gave them full permission to feel the pain itself. He cried with those were crying. Instead of just talking down to them, He would reach down to them and stoop down with them to lift them up.
So going forward, here’s how you can truly help lighten someone’s load.
“I don’t know everything you’re going through, but I’m really trying to understand.”
“It takes time to heal, and everyone’s schedule is different.”
“God’s going to bring you through this, but it’s okay to feel what you feel while you’re in it.”
Pray for a heart to feel the real impact of your responses to the people around you who are hurting. Eyes to see the true load they’re carrying. Ears to hear the true tone and tenor of your words. And if those words are only adding more weight to their worries, it may be better to say nothing at all.
If this article blessed you, please leave a comment, hit one of the share buttons at the top, or subscribe to the blog.
Be blessed and be a blessing!