A huge goal of Putting It Plainly is to give ‘tough stuff’ a voice. Sometimes the only way to find healing & answers is to get real and chat about what it’s like to be in your personal hell, or hear from others what it’s like in theirs.
So let’s get real! One common thing I hear from folks who’ve been through the ringer (that they would REALLY like to change) is: “People can be so insensitive. I know they probably don’t mean to come off rude, but seriously… I wish people would think before they speak.” I started hearing so many crazy comments these sufferers have received that I just had to make a list and write a post about this…
- “Wow. You’re so strong. I’m so glad it’s you, not me. I couldn’t do it. “ –really? Wait. You didn’t really just say that you’re glad I’m the one going through this instead of you, did you? Oh wait. You did. Nice. And hello, do you think I planned on this happening, or do you think that somehow I deserved it because I’m ‘strong’?
- “Since you are here today I’m hoping this is a good sign that your NICU baby isn’t dead, right?” —blank… There aren’t words to respond to this one.
- “Still not married, huh?” –yep. Thank you Captain Obvious. Which one are you thinking is the reason: 1- I am really picky, 2- something is wrong with me that nobody is interested in my hand in marriage, or 3-I’m the career type/commitment issues and don’t make relationships a priority?
- “It’s so nice that you didn’t have to be pregnant and you got the easy way to have kids. I can’t imagine how nice it would have been to just go pick up my child after somebody else carried it.” –right, because it’s really super easy to wonder every day if that baby I’ve been dreaming of being my child to raise, will actually be given to me or not. Not to mention, everything about myself and my life had to be evaluated with a fine tooth comb to decide if I’m a qualified parent. Did your OB do that to you when you were expecting? Let’s talk about easiness of becoming a parent again, shall we?
- “Ever since you’ve confided in me and told me that your child was sexually abused, I’ve been thinking maybe it’s best to not let my kids play with your child, you know, just in case they decide to act on their ‘knowledge’.” –YEAH! Being ostersized from their friends and normal life is exactly what my hurting child needs! How did you know?! Just kidding, you don’t know a thing about sexually abused children or seem to care. So glad I reached out for help in hopes that as my friend and as the mom of my child’s friends, we could have a healthy conversation about how you can help me to deal with this new reality of mine as a parent. I actually have a lot I’ve learned and was hoping to explain so that you could help me have this fear not be realized.
- “So, for reals, what’s going on? What happened? “–awesome. So glad I’m in your life to fill your need for the latest gossip. Maybe I just really needed somebody to know I’m hurting and having a hard time but I’m not ready to talk, or can’t talk because it involves other people’s privacy. If I didn’t offer information, is it really friendly and kind of you to force it out of me? I didn’t know that ‘knowing what happened’ made any difference to how likely you were to want to help me through my tough time.
- “You know, you can get your body back after having a baby, you shouldn’t let your fabulous body stop you from the joy of motherhood.” –Oh sis, I wish so badly I could say the one thing that would make you choke on this comment, but I won’t, because clearly you’ve never considered the word ‘infertile’ before.
- “Although this trial I had was hard, I’m grateful for it because at least it wasn’t ______ .” –well, mine is the worse one you’re referring to, and now you’ve made me feel like crap that I got dealt the trials that you’d be ungrateful for. I guess I’m less trial #blessed than you.
- “Oh that happened to me, … (Their story here) …… So do this and you’ll be fine.” –is it possible that one of the things that helped you through your hard time was just being allowed to experience the emotions that came with it and not feeling compared to somebody else? Can you allow me that privilege also?
- “You look fantastic!! You are so skinny again! I’m jealous you didn’t have to be pregnant all 9 months and get so huge. That’s got to be one perk to having a premie!” –hmmm, well, my baby is suffering… don’t you think I’d rather be ‘fat’ and have a healthy baby?
- “Call me if you need anything.” –for real? When was the last time your entire universe was flipped upside down?? Do you really think I dont need help with just about EVERYTHING right now? Pick a thing: cooking, kids, grocery runs, homework, finances, errands, housework- inside & outside, emotional/physical/mental support…. I’m pretty much a wreck and could use a real friend who could see that and jump in to help me through this time, especially one who wouldn’t expect me to call you to ask for it.
- “At least it’s not worse!” –ok, I know there are people who have it worse, but for me, this is the worst I’ve ever experienced and felt. It would be nice to feel validated that this is hard without reminding me that apparently I’m weak & ungrateful since I’m upset about my situation when others have had it worse.
- “Well, you can only go up from here.” –meaning I’ve hit rock bottom? Thanks for that visual enormous pit you just put me in. That’s going to be so helpful to picture myself there as I try to mentally dig my way out….not!
- “Cheer up! There’s still so much to be happy about!” –cheer isn’t in the scope of possibilities for me right now. One day I’ll find things I’m grateful for and bring me cheer again, but it most definitely won’t come from this comment. This clip will help:
- “With losing your job, you’ve got all sorts of time to figure out what you want out of life and go after it!” –actually, what I wanted out of life was a job to pay the bills and keep food in my family’s bellies, so now I’m running out of time to have that continue to happen.
- “So, when are you guys having kids? What’s taking so long? Is it careers, infertility, or what?” –last I checked this was my business and my life, maybe if we were better friends I’d tell you. Don’t come asking without me offering.
- “Are you ok? You look terrible.” –you know, you’d think that if I look bad enough to ask this, that maybe you’re smart enough to figure out the answer without having to make me feel like instead of ‘braving the day’ I should have stayed home in my closet, wallowing in my warranted sorrows.
And one last thing that isn’t technically a comment: No comment. Nothing hurts worse than confiding in ‘friends’ and then they ignore you, don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything at all, or act like nothing happened. I’d rather a person say the wrong thing while trying to acknowledge my situation, than get an awkwardness, cold shoulder, or turned a blind eye from a friend. Personally, I had two friends I confided in about an extremely difficult trial I was suffering through years ago. One looked at me with pity and never said or did anything afterwards. The other would just give me a hug and tell me she was thinking of me whenever she saw me. Super simple, but it helped curb the new loneliness and despair that was always threatening to destroy me. Even if you don’t take the clues below on what to do or say, and you find yourself at a loss on providing help in this moment with this person, you can at least be real enough to say “I’m sorry, I know I’m being awkward right now. I just don’t know what to say. I’ve never dealt with or even thought about something like this happening.” Because chances are, the person struggling doesn’t have a clue what to do or say about it either. Chances are they never figured out some plan on what they’d do if they found themselves in the situation they are now in. But it’s their reality, and it’s a tough blow to feel ‘blown off’ by somebody you thought you could trust and count on.
So, are you guilty? Chances are we’ve all said something offensive to a person struggling and suffering, because we haven’t been exactly in their shoes to know exactly what they’re feeling & going through. I know this post was bounty and negative, but my hope is that reading these comments and the commentary that followed helped you to see how insensitive things like these can be.
Now that we are more enlightened on what not to say, let’s mention some things most people would like to hear from us:
I am here for you.
I love you.
I am (we are) praying for you.
You are so strong, I am sorry for your struggle.
I just want you to know that as your friend, if you need somebody to talk to, you can trust me to confide in. If you need somebody to distract your mind from the weight of your burdens, I can provide you that relief. If you need a shoulder to cry on without a single spoken word because of privacy or any reason, I won’t make you speak and I’ll cry with you.
“Actions speak louder than words.” It is important to remember this and follow up any of your comments with action. Show up at their doorstep with their favorite treat and a hug. Pick up an extra gallon of milk, carton of eggs and loaf of bread to drop off, who doesn’t always need the ‘essentials’? Write a card and mail it- tell them all the lovely things you admire about them. Go pickup their kids with an offer to join your kids at the park (double help here: parents get a break, and the kids get to get out of the house to have fun, the stress/suffering of the parents weighs heavily on them too)… The list is endless.
The formula to actually help is pretty simple: Think with compassion and understanding before you speak and then find ways to lighten their load.