When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I don’t remember ever being encouraged by these words : “Well, think about so-and-so; at least you are not going through what she’s going through.” Or, “Things could be so much worse. Think about so-and-so and how much she is suffering right now. “
Maybe I’m just sensitive (as most people are who are in the midst of a trial) but comparisons like these would make me feel bad for feeling bad in the first place! I mean, goodness, if your other friend had six miscarriages, I shouldn’t be so upset about one, should I?
This is the thing when trying to encourage a loved one: unless she is totally self-absorbed or clueless, then she already knows, and probably reminds herself on a daily basis, these same comparisons. She is fully aware that she should be grateful for what she has and that things could be so much worse. Yet she’s still sad. Trust me, the comparison thing only makes you feel better for about five seconds. And then it’s back to reality.
So what can you do to offer sincere encouragement?
There’s not a one size fits all approach, but a friend had good advice once: When in doubt about what to say, don’t comment, ask a question. I would much rather hear, “How are you doing with all of this?” or “What can I do to help?” than a hurtful comparison or an empty platitude. That’s just me, though. What about you?
(This post originally appeared in my “What to Do” Wednesday series on Instagram.)