Going through some personal trials in my own life, I’ve learned what not to do when someone else is suffering. Although people generally have good intentions, oftentimes they become more of a hindrance than a help to the healing process. While I certainly don’t have all the answers on how to help someone, I’ve come to an understanding about some of the biggest mistakes we can make.
Mistake #1 – Pretending to understand someone else’s trial
If you have not personally experienced what someone is going through, it’s a disservice to pretend to understand. It’s okay to say that you can’t relate to their pain. There is nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to say or do for that person.
When my close friend’s husband died in a tragic workplace accident, there was no way I could help her in the grieving process by pretending to understand what she was going through. I had no words for her…and that’s exactly what I would tell her. My presence, my listening ear, my care and concern were all she needed. She wasn’t looking for someone to say, “I understand.” She was looking for someone to just be there.
If we haven’t experienced what someone else has gone through, it doesn’t disqualify us from helping. It’s always better to admit we’re at a loss as to how to help rather than pretending to understand their pain.
Mistake #2 – Comparing your pain to their pain
Sometimes we have experienced a similar type of trial, which in many ways can be very comforting to the other person. But in the midst of their pain, don’t compare what it was like for you to what they’re experiencing.
During the more than a yearlong process of seeking custody and going through the legal system for my granddaughter, I had a friend who was constantly telling me about her own experiences with custody more than 20 years ago. Her intentions were good, I know that. But it eventually made me stop sharing with her.
When someone is hurting, it’s hard for them to see past it. It’s not that we shouldn’t share our insight or experiences, but we have to be careful that the focus doesn’t become about our pain instead of their pain.
Mistake #3 – Diminishing what someone else is going through
Sometimes we unintentionally (or perhaps even intentionally) diminish the other person’s trial. What is tragic for one person might not be to another. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
While losing a pet might not compare to losing a spouse, it is still a loss nonetheless. A demotion might not be as bad as getting laid off…but it’s still discouraging. A parent who is upset about their child getting caught smoking maybe doesn’t compare to a child hooked on drugs…yet it’s still a disappointment.
Just because it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you or it’s not as big of a trial as what you have gone through, doesn’t mean the person is any less deserving of encouragement and support. Don’t diminish what someone else is going through…they’re pain is just as real.