They’re in pain. They’re suffering. What’s the worst thing you can say to them?
Here’s a contender: “It could be worse.”
I mean, come on, how pointless and unhelpful is this?
I get it. The idea is to remind the person that there are other people in this world who are in a far worse position and enduring much more pain. To remind them that most of our problems are first world, champagne problems.
But it doesn’t help.
Firstly, when you say that to someone, you actually add to their grief and discomfort. Because as well as dealing with whatever it is that’s upset them, they are reminded that there are people who bear heavier burdens more heroically than them, and consequently, they are made to feel weak and ungrateful for how they are feeling.
Secondly, when you say something like that, you deny the existence of the other person’s pain. You are not inside their mind and body. You can’t feel what they are feeling. So it’s easy for you to compare their suffering to others.
But it doesn’t change the fact that, however illogical or petty the cause of their present state is, they are actually in pain. Millions of other people also in pain doesn’t make their’s any less legitimate or real.
You don’t need to say those words to someone who is suffering. They’re meaningless. They’re a fact that is undoubtedly true but completely irrelevant when someone is in pain. Those words don’t offer anything approaching a solution. They do nothing to alleviate or lighten the load.
If you want to help, you might not need to say anything at all. Because when we’re in pain, when we’re struggling, when we’re in danger of sinking below the surface, most words don’t help. What helps is having someone there, someone who is willing to listen if you want to talk, accept it if you don’t want to speak at all, and ultimately, just be there with you.
Words don’t always make the pain easier to bear. But you know what does? Having someone next to you, someone who cares enough to give you a slice of their most valuable resource; time.