Have you ever gone to someone with your problem looking for some kind words and sympathy only to receive ridiculous responses?
I am talking to one of my friends back east about how my fertility stuff is going (or not going) and she says “I have a story. Everyone here is pregnant so I haven’t been able to tell anyone, but since you’re not…” She then tells me about a friend who is pregnant with twins and just found out that they either won’t survive or will definitely have Down’s Syndrome. They are devout Catholics so they won’t do anything. And then she says “Isn’t that awful?”
I wait a minute just to let this story sink in. I tell her that’s really sad. But I am thinking “Why is she telling me this story? To make me feel better?” Is she thinking “Well, at least you’re not pregnant with a down’s syndrome baby”?! How crazy does that statement sound?
Here I am, trying to get pregnant and dealing with the major stress, pain and disappointment of that and now, thanks to my friend telling me this story, I have to be reminded about the fact that if I do, in fact, by some miracle, get pregnant, I also have to worry about the health of the baby and be paranoid that there will be a major problem??!! Geez, thanks.
I know that my friend didn’t mean any harm. She loves me and wants me to get pregnant and be happy. She just doesn’t realize that she just made me feel even more depressed and anxious by giving me the “well it could be worse” scenario.
Let me give everyone some advice – I know it is second nature that when someone tells you bad news, giving a worst-case scenario can seem to make the person feel better. Like saying “Well at least you don’t have kids” to someone who is getting a divorce. Or “Well he did have a long life” to someone whose dog just died. But let me tell you, THIS IS TERRIBLE BEHAVIOR.
People don’t want to hear that it could be worse. They want to hear that it can be better. I myself am guilty of this. My friend told me she is getting a divorce. They have a 4-year old son. I tell her I am so sorry and then I talk about how my parents got divorced when I was 3 and I turned out fine. Was this a good thing to say? I don’t know. She didn’t respond to that. Uh oh. I got worried that perhaps my pep talk did not do any good. So I sent her an email saying:
“You never know what life can bring. I try to prepare myself for every scenario but it’s impossible to predict the future. Many women have been or will be in your situation and they get through it. Better for you to go through hell now than to stay with a man you don’t love. You are young, smart, and beautiful. It will be ok!”
She responded immediately – “I love you even more for saying that. Thanks honey.”
I meant every word of it and it felt good to help. I think, in bad situations, people need to feel that:
1. They are not the only one going through this.
2. They are not stupid.
3. They will be okay.
Now, the difficulty is the WAY you say it. If your friend gets laid off and you simply say “Oh yeah, EVERYONE is losing their job in this economy” then you have reduced this person to a statistic and made their troubles seem insignificant – another drop in the bucket. My rule of thumb is to go by a psychiatrist’s guidelines – ask how they are doing and leave out a lot of commentary – at least when you first hear the news. When your friend tells you she is no longer dating a guy, don’t jump in to point out his flaws or give her dating advice. Just ask her how she is doing, how did it happen and you are sorry it didn’t work out. Let her talk. In a couple of weeks, when she has gone through the initial pain and shock, you can offer your advice and counsel.
If you can convey to your friend that you care and hope they will be okay, then you have done something good!!
So just remember when someone tells you some bad news, listen now, comment later!! And skip the stories of further despair and how it could be worse – this kind of sympathy SUCKS!