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How to Help a Hurting Human – The “Don’ts”

There is a LOT going on in the world right now. I know you know this, but I mention it because a byproduct of this truth is that people are struggling. Lots of them. Struggling HARD. I guarantee that at least some of them are in your sphere of influence, and there are some points that bear mentioning now and then when it comes to interacting with someone who is hurting.

So, I thought I’d share some dos and don’ts to help. You probably are aware of some or even all of these, but a refresher might be timely, particularly with the holidays approaching.

While I’m only scratching the surface, this post was a bit long, so I split it into two posts. This week, for brevity, I’ll share four “don’ts” with you, and three “dos” next week. So, without further ado, the “don’ts” (see how I did that?) …

DON’T

Tell them it could be worse. 

  • It is doubtful that any of us has ever encountered an adult who doesn’t fully understand that “it could always be worse,” so don’t say that. Or any version of it. When people come to me with troubles, they often tell me early on some variation of “I know it could be worse,” or, “I know it’s not the worst thing in the world that can happen,” or, “I know others who have it worse than I do, but …” and frankly it bothers me that people have become so accustomed to other people’s callousness that they feel they need to minimize their own problems in order to appear rational.
    • While I suppose it’s healthy to acknowledge that whatever is bothering us is, in fact, not the worst problem any human has ever experienced, it is nonetheless the situation we are in at this moment, and it’s a legitimate problem for us or we wouldn’t be talking about it.
    • (Also, I wonder if sometimes people don’t say it as a preemptive strike, so they don’t have to endure hearing it from the other person).
  • Let’s face it: it’s an insult to the hurting person’s intelligence and it often comes across as, “yeah, yeah, yeah … cut to the chase, and get happy already because I’m uncomfortable with your discomfort.”

DON’T

Say “At least…”

  • If at some point in the conversation with a hurting person you feel compelled to allow yourself to say anything starting with, “At least…” STOP YOURSELF. Bite your tongue as hard as you have to, but DON’T SAY IT. Examples:
    • “At least today’s better than yesterday.” This can come across as, “Wow! So, you’re good now! What a relief for me!”
    • “At least it’s only going to cost you $300 instead of $1000.” That $300 is big potatoes or they probably wouldn’t be bothered about it. There have been times in my life when $300 might as well have been $5,000. Allow for their perception of the issue.
    • “At least it’s fixable.” They probably are aware of this, but the waiting time for the fix may feel like an eternity. Maybe they’ll be in a lot of pain until then. Maybe the fix comes with its own scary challenges.
    • “At least you’re not alone.” Nope, they’re not – they have you, dear friend, so be good to them and don’t assume you know what their other relationships are like. They chose you to be vulnerable with. Don’t teach them they can’t be.
  • Almost anything coming after “at least” is going to minimize their issue, and here’s another truth: many, many people find it far more difficult to express their feelings than to ignore or minimize them. In other words, they are very likely needing someone who doesn’t need them to minimize their struggles for the other person’s comfort or attention span.

DON’T

Trivialize, Even Accidentally.

  • Do not quote Romans 8:28 unless they are a brand-new believer and there is a genuine possibility they don’t actually already know this. Just don’t.
  • Do not tell them “This, too, shall pass.” Yuck.
  • Do not tell them “It will get better.” Yuck again.
  • All of the above convey that you don’t have the patience to listen to them, you don’t care or don’t want to be bothered with their problems, that they need to “suck it up and move on,” or that they’re not the sharpest crayon in the box. Just don’t do it.

DON’T

Play Mr./Ms. Fix It.

  • Do not feel like you need to fix the problem. This one has been around so long and is so obvious that I will not belabor it. As a refresher, just remember that usually your friend just needs to feel heard. Most often, they will make it abundantly clear if they want your advice. Maybe you have to wait until the end of their “rant” for them to ask, “What do you think/What would you do?” but that’s okay. It often helps us sort out our own issues when we simply process them aloud.
  • If you’re in doubt about whether they want your help or just a listening ear, ask them. If you’re uncomfortable with this, just know that many people value this type of clarification and most likely the other person will feel like you’re actually interested in the conversation. You add value to them by asking what they need from you rather than assuming what they need (you’re terrific and all, but not everyone wants or needs to be “rescued” or “fixed,” and your perspective on how you’d handle the problem may or may not actually be a good fit for them).

I look forward to your other recommendations in the comments!

Be sure to check out next week’s Monday Moment at the Well for part two, the “dos,” where I’ll share a juicy nugget I have figured out when dealing with a hurting person who I need to spend less time with.

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