Sometimes It’s Not Ok.

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Sometimes horrible things happen. Sometimes we lose people after a long battle with illness or even unexpectedly as evidenced by yesterday’s shootings. Sometimes life brings us to our knees. I have had several of these events happen in my lifetime and the quickest response that most people offer is “it’ll be ok.”

I want to tell you that it won’t.

“It’ll be ok” is one phrase that needs to be used very carefully. It’s almost a reflex, a go-to phrase when someone else is going through a hard time. In some cases it is appropriate–a child falls down and scrapes his knee, you accidentally hit the curb and need a new tire, etc. Where “it’ll be ok” doesn’t work well is when something egregious happens–a school shooting, the loss of someone you care about, or battling a bout of severe depression.

When I was in college, one of my close friends was killed in a car accident. I hadn’t seen him as often in recent months and the news came out of nowhere. I honestly don’t remember too many specifics of how I reacted, but I know that there were plenty of people telling me that it would be ok. I remember being numb to the fact until I attended his funeral and broke down in the line waiting to approach his casket. Over 10 years later, I still find myself thinking about him periodically and feeling anger that he’s gone and sadness that I never got to say goodbye. The pain is less, but it’s never been ok.

I get it. I really do. I’ve been guilty of it myself.

When someone we know is hurting, we want to make it better. We want to help take the pain away. The easiest and most reflexive thing to do when we have no control over a situation is to try and assuage their fears by telling them that it’ll be ok. However well-intentioned we are, using that phrase is like trying to shove a bandaid on a gaping, gushing wound.

It’s ineffective.

There are some situations that won’t ever be ok. Losing a child or parent, for example, may get easier with time, but it is never going to be ok. Telling someone who is struggling with clinical depression that “it’ll be ok” is like a slap in the face. What you are essentially doing is discrediting their disease and telling them that if they just try hard enough, they’ll be happy again.

Sometimes all we need when we are going through a tough time is for someone else to be there. To listen. To really hear us. To sit through the silence.

I understand how helpless that can make you as the other person feel, but you’re going to have to sit in that discomfort. Stop trying to fix the situation. It can come across as dismissive and causes the person in pain to feel like you’re really not understanding them. Instead of fixing, practice empathy. Understand what that person is going through and be there as a source of support.

Rather than trying to control another person’s grief or sadness, practice some of the following:

1. Ask them how they are doing. Let them do the talking. Don’t try and steer the conversation. Show a vested interest in their plight.

2. Offer to help. Provide specific examples of help like bringing dinner or running some errands. Saying “let me know if there’s anything I can do” comes across as obligatory and disingenuous.

3. Don’t avoid. Remember, it may be uncomfortable for you to show up for a sad or grieving person and the easier course of action is to simply run away. Even if they aren’t able to be fully present in the relationship right now, make sure that they know you are there for them. Avoiding or ignoring the situation altogether stalls grieving and creates shame and isolation.

4. Let them cry. Tears are a healthy expression of emotion and if they feel comfortable enough around you to cry, let them. Don’t force tissues on them (unless they ask). The emotions will naturally work themselves out.

The next time someone you know is going through a hard time, make sure to practice empathy. Really consider the words that you use and think about what someone else may need, not what you think needs to be said. They need to know that they are not alone and that someone hears them.

It may never be ok, but it’ll get better.

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.

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19 Comments

  1. August 27, 2015 / 5:35 am

    I just texted you because you scared the everloving bejeebus out of me until I knew what you were talking about.
    I agree. Sometimes, it’s not ok. Sometimes things don’t happen for a reason” — another phrase that gets my goat. On the same subject, don’t tell me, “at least you tried your best.” Well, no, my best would have been better, that is why I’m upset. But I digress. People have a right to be angry, sad, and bewildered beyond measure by the insanity of life. You have the right to stand up for your feelings (COUGH). Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…The Hilarity that is My Life. SERIOUSLYMy Profile

  2. August 27, 2015 / 11:21 am

    I love this. It’s so hard sometimes to know what to say, but it’s easy to minimize the situation by spewing out cliches like this. It’s only until you actually go through something REALLY tough that you realize all you can do as a support system is just be there…you can’t say anything, but you can do everything.
    Lauren @ ihadabiglunch recently posted…Thinking Out Loud: there are still good people in the worldMy Profile

  3. August 27, 2015 / 11:58 am

    Such great tips. It’s so hard to deal with tragedy and it’s always tough to know how to react/what to say. Thank you so much for sharing this!
    Gretchen | Gretchruns recently posted…Pinterest-Perfect DayMy Profile

  4. Diana
    August 27, 2015 / 12:52 pm

    Love this post. Thank you.

  5. August 27, 2015 / 2:42 pm

    I am completely guilty of saying to someone “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” without actually coming up with ways to help. Thanks for the reminder to be better about this.
    Lindsey recently posted…Announcing The New Live Fit Online Training ProgramMy Profile

  6. August 27, 2015 / 3:36 pm

    When my opa passed a good friend quickly texted me and asked if she could some by with lunch. It was so easy for me to respond because there wasn’t an obligation on my end.
    Ange @ Cowgirl Runs recently posted…Thinking Out LoudMy Profile

  7. August 27, 2015 / 7:56 pm

    Oh I know I’ve been guilty of telling people it’ll be okay, which I totally didn’t consider at the time and mainly used because I was literally at a loss for what to say. I definitely agree that letting them talk (or not talk) is one of the bet things to do. Sometimes just being there without saying a word is enough.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…. thinking out loud #145 .My Profile

  8. August 27, 2015 / 10:10 pm

    I agree. It’s a knee-jeek reaction sort of phrase that we use when we want to offer comfort but don’t quite know what to say.
    Patricia recently posted…Vegan food in Manila: JuicesabelMy Profile

  9. August 27, 2015 / 10:29 pm

    I hate when people tell me “it’s going to be okay”. I always think, how do you know? As you said, they don’t know, but they don’t know any other way to offer comfort.
    I really do try to let people talk, but sometimes the listening is the hardest part.
    Heather@hungryforbalance recently posted…5 money saving tips for living on one incomeMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      September 8, 2015 / 4:33 pm

      It really is. It can be really uncomfortable to just listen and not try to fix things.

  10. August 28, 2015 / 8:41 am

    When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer I had people saying that. Then after he died they would say, “it’s gets easier”. I don’t actually think it gets easier at all, it just you have to gain a new perspective. I also had people who I thought were good friends totally abandon me when things got tough. I’ve also been guilty of this stuff. It’s such a tough thing when a person is grieving or suffering emotionally. I think it’s all part of the stigma attached to negativity, depression, etc. I think it really is something that people need to experience first hand to really know how another person could possibly be feeling. Even then it’s not that simple, is it? It’s great to do posts like these, because these really are great tips. Support is key. You know actions speak louder than words, and sometimes just being there helps it get better.
    Erin recently posted…Abroad City: An American Living in Glasgow #8My Profile

  11. August 28, 2015 / 12:06 pm

    Ray, as much as I love him, uses this as his GO-TO phrase when I’m not okay. With alcoholism in my family, issues come up every once in a while. He’s says it’ll be okay, but IT WON’T! He’s getting better at just listening to me vent, but I try to remind him that I’d prefer it if he didn’t say it. I know he’s just trying to help “solve” a problem and help me…but….
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Vegetarian sweet potato eggplant curry sauteMy Profile

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