Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"It Could Be Worse" Doesn't Help

When trying to comfort someone who's grieving (or otherwise depressed) over something, you might be tempted to sooth the pain by expressing to that person that "It could be worse (henceforth ICBW), look at how bad this person has it" etc. I will express that I believe you are wasting breath, and possibly causing more damage. It does not help.

It's probable that that other person (who "has it worse") does have things much harder than you. But the strange thing is that it just doesn't do much for consolation. The grieving/depressed person is too wrapped up in his own feelings and emotions to consider this other person's case. And I am not saying that being wrapped up in one's own grief is wrong or selfish (with limits of course). People need to grieve, and it could take months or years to get over it.

Okay, so it doesn't help. But does it hurt? Whenever I have heard it from other people, I'm rather numb to the idea of empathizing with other people. Call it selfish or what have you, but I cannot conjure up empathy in those numb moments. Like water off a duck's back, or like RPGs off explosive reactive armor, ICBW usually has absolutely no effect on me. Even if I were able to conjure up empathy in those moments, thinking about someone else's horrible situations wouldn't make me feel better. In fact, for some people, it could make them feel worse. When you feel like everything in your life is going wrong, ICBW only puts ideas in your head for what might happen to you next.

Let the grieving/depressed person come to this ICBW realization on his own. In times past, I have independently thought to myself that ICBW. It does/did help a tiny tiny bit. But only because I thought of it myself, and only because I was out of the initial phase of grief or depression.

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4 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Ron and Ginny

    I have learned over the years to just cry with them and maybe voice your own grief over their grief. Sometimes, just being quiet with them is even better. But, I do understand that sometimes, when you are overwhelmed with someone else's grief, you scramble for something to say and end up with something stupid. I have done it many times. When I have been the one grieving, I have not really noticed what was said at the time, good or bad. But, again, silent companionship seems to be the best thing. I HAVE noticed that someone was there, just not what was said.

  • Iris

    I totally agree, it does NOT make you feel better. I remember reading an article in FL Today several years ago by the columnist Norris Burkes. He wrote about people who say "I know how you feel" when they are trying to comfort people. That article changed the way I thought about empathy (in fact, I think I may have it in my room somewhere). I am careful about what I say when I am listening to others and their struggles.

    No one can really understand another person's situation fully. The most we can do is just be there for each other, to listen, to support, to pray for each other, etc.

    I don't know if you wrote this because someone said this to you or Harmony recently, but I hope that you are both are doing well. It's been a while since I've chatted with either of you. School is busy as usual, but I am trying to hang in there.

  • Samantha

    This is a very clear, well-articulated post. I've always found ICBW to be dismissive and even sometimes invalidating. And it's not really the point. Pain is pain and when you're feeling it, it is the worst for you at that moment.

    I'm not sure why you wrote this post at this time, but I'll pray for you both that there is healing, in whatever form that may need to be.

  • JunkMale

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words and sympathy.

    Samantha: we've gone through some hard times in the past 6-7 months. A lot of it has been written about on this blog, some of it hasn't. The feelings expressed in this blog post are not *necessarily* brought on by one incidence. I just happened to feel like writing it at this time ;)