I believe that people are inherently good. We want to be helpful and make others feel good. When people are in crisis, we often scramble for ways to make them feel better and to avoid sitting in the pain with them. Being with someone in their distress is hard.
People say some of the strangest things in an effort to make someone feel better. Most of these statements are things we’ve learned. We hear them from people we trust and believe that they’re supposed to work. Most of these platitudes or “motivational statements” fall flat or leave us feeling like absolute crap.
I like to call those overly positivity, motivational statements “toxic positivity” when they are handed to in moment of distress. These well-intentioned, positive phrases often make us feel dismissed and misunderstood when used at the wrong time.
2. Get curious. Be careful not to say “I understand” right away. You may not actually understand and the person may feel like you didn’t take the time to learn about their situation or adequately provide them with a space to share. Here are some variations you can use and make your own:
3. Refrain from offering advice until you’ve been explicitly told that the person wants problem solving help. Seriously, don’t do it.
Humans want to be understood and seen. It’s our deepest desire and the motivation behind much of our behavior. Language has the power to make people feel a sense of belonging. This is why our words matter. A simple shift in what you say to someone struggling can make a huge difference.
We discuss toxic positivity, how to be a good support person, and more. You can listen here.
Whitney Goodman, LMFT is a therapist, author, and mother on a quest to make mental health information accessible and easy to understand.
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