After the previous post by my husband, I have been hesitant to put up another post. I was so grateful to be reminded of how one person can affect the lives of so many. I was so grateful and overwhelmed at the support of others, and the thoughtfulness towards Ed and his wife. We are so grateful to be among people that truly care for one another. Thank you all for that support.
I thought it would be appropriate to address the question that we have all struggled with at one point: What do I do for someone when I don’t know what to say? I didn’t ask “What do you say?” because sometimes there is nothing we can say. When someone has lost someone they love, or is struggling with terminal illness, physical or emotional illness, or significant pain, sometimes there isn’t anything we can say to make it better. Now, there are some things we say that can make it worse. I know because I have said these things to others before.
Here are some kickers:
It will get better.
Keep your chin up.
Drop your purse. (OK, I know I haven’t said this one, but I have heard it…)
I know exactly what you are feeling. Let me tell you about…
Look at the positives in your life.
At least you have…
You have to be strong.
Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.
Just keep going.
Usually, when we say these things, our intentions are good. We want to help. We want to fix. But, there are some things in life that we cannot fix. So, what do we do?
We empathize. Empathy is the ability to not only try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but to begin to understand what they are feeling. Empathy is about connecting to that person on an emotional level. Empathy takes time and emotional effort. When you truly empathize with someone, you will find yourself feeling something. And, when you empathize, it is work. You will give a part of your emotional energy away.
Now, I think many of us are well versed in sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for the person.
Empathy is feeling with the person.
I love this video about the differences by Brene Brown:
So, wanna sandwich? I know I have given my share of sandwiches away. And if there are any here that have received one, I am truly sorry. It is easier to make and give a “sandwich” that to give a piece of yourself. It takes less energy. It takes less time.
So, here is a list of things to do when you don’t know what to say:
It is impossible to empathize if you don’t know what someone else is feeling. Often, when another person is talking, we are already preparing what we are going to say in response. My challenge to you is to consciously stop that internal preparation. Focus on the words of the person you want to help. Listen to what they are saying. If they pause, and it appears they are waiting for a response and you still don’t know what to say, a version of this statement is appropriate: “I don’t know what to say right now, but I really care about you. I am here.”
Physical touch can speak volumes. A hug or holding someone’s hand can mean more than words. Often, no words will even need to be spoken.
This is not giving a sandwich, this is giving a part of yourself. If you serve using empathy, you will find something that the person needs done, or something that will be a physical representation of your feelings for them. When we struggle, we sometimes need physical reminders that others care for us. Send flowers. Write a sincere note. Mow their lawn. Shovel their driveway. Do these things without any expectation in return. That is serving with empathy.
When we care about someone, we can pray for them by name. If they are comfortable, we can pray with them. When we pray for someone, we may have thoughts or feelings about what to do. Follow those feelings. Act on those promptings. They are answers to your prayers.
This means letting that person know that you are there, and that you will continue to be there for them. This means consistency. If you are busy, send a text message. If you had a bad week, connect next week. Don’t drop the ball.
This last one is sometimes the most difficult. We cannot put our time schedule on another’s grief and pain. We must allow them to take their own time, and we must be willing to be there through it, regardless of whether we agree. If you truly want to help another person in their adversity, you must respect their time schedule.
We have all been in a place where we needed someone to empathize with us. Empathy takes practice. We will not always get it right. We may not always have the energy for empathy. But, continue to try. Continue to reach out. When we empathize, we will feel a greater connection to those around us. It is rewarding.
Do you have an experience where someone expressed true empathy with you?