Chronic Illness · Chronic Pain · Mental Health · Personal · Recovery

What to Say When Someone Doesn’t Know What to Say in Response to Your Suffering

Have any of you ever experienced a conversation where you open up to someone about something really difficult and personal and they try to silver line your suffering, showing sympathy instead of empathy?

“At least you don’t have it worse.”
“It’ll get better soon. I just know it.”
“Oh, that’s not so bad; have you heard about what Christina is going through?!”
“Just think positive thoughts.”
“I know just the thing to solve your problem for you: (insert solution you’ve already heard/tried or know already would not work here).”

Or better yet, have you ever opened up to someone and then ended up having to comfort them about your suffering because they’re so distraught about what you have told them? You end up having to say something to the effect of, “It’s okay, really. Don’t worry about me” in order to move on in the conversation.

I don’t know about you, but as a person with many (manageable, but incurable) health conditions, I end up in conversations like this occasionally. I get really tired of them if I’m going through a rougher period and feel more need to talk about what I’m experiencing than usual. I know that people have good intentions, but it can still sting to feel like I’m not being listened to. I’m just being heard; they’re listening to respond rather than just listening. They’re trying to find answers when there just might not be answers and then feel disappointed when they can’t find them. It feels like they don’t understand how hard I’m working to get better. I silver line my situation for myself all the time, but sometimes, I just need to vent.

Even the most positive among us need to complain about bad days sometimes.



Here are some things I’m learning to say instead of “It’s okay, really. Don’t worry about me” that I think could help many of us in similar situations and awkward conversations:

“Sometimes, it’s nice to just vent to someone – thanks for listening.”
“Even though no one can really fix it, it’s so good to just talk about it.”
“Even my team of doctors doesn’t have many answers, so I certainly don’t expect you to solve it! It’s just helpful to know you’re here for me.”
“Most of the time, I try to stay positive, but today I’m just not feeling it, so it’s great to just have some support and companionship.”
“I so appreciate you trying to make me feel better and see the silver lining, but it’s definitely not a great situation right now because it’s not under my control.”

For those of us who are religious, here are some specific responses to silver lining statements like “God is using this for your good”, “God is good”, or “Just pray more”:

“I’m so grateful that we have a God who can handle our frustration, disappointment, sadness, and doubts. Today, God’s handling a lot of those on my behalf.”
“I know that God will weave all things together for my good, but today, it’s really hard to see that.”
“I don’t doubt God’s goodness, but I do sometimes doubt the good in this situation. Thanks for listening.”

So much love to all of you who are in pain at the moment. May it pass quickly and completely.

[Photographer of the cover image: Jorge Flores.]

10 thoughts on “What to Say When Someone Doesn’t Know What to Say in Response to Your Suffering

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