So this idea of “right words” has really been on my mind lately.
I can be over sensitive and easily misread tone in texts or on social media and even sometimes in person. I also have trouble understanding intent sometimes too.
I believe words are so incredibly powerful. There are so many struggles that people experience in our society and most of the time, I think there’s very few people who say the right things because it’s hard to know what to say.
I think about when we were trying to get pregnant with Lochlan. We heard the worst things… from our friends and family and well-meaning people…. I know their intent was different than the words they were speaking, but for something so raw to us, their words were knives.
I know I’m not alone in these feelings. I have a beautiful friend with an incredible daughter who has autism. I know she struggles with the words people say to her. I know people who are going through separations and no one seems to be saying anything truly understanding.
So many of us hear the same phrases over and over again when we share about our lives…
- When the time is right
- Everything happens for a reason
- You’re so strong
- It could be worse…
- Well, have you tried (insert unhelpful suggestion)
I know there are so many more and others that are more specific to certain circumstances. These were just the phrases that popped into my head.
I believe we all need to think a little harder about what our words are really saying and how it might affect a person going through something that we may not fully understand.
If your friend is struggling to get pregnant, you probably shouldn’t suggest something is wrong with her or her partner, that she should adopt, that you know 15 people who got pregnant right away, etc. These statements are going to make her feel worse, or misunderstood, or angry. You know what you could say, “This is really hard. I want to be here for you.” And if you don’t know what to say, that’s OK. Sometimes, it’s just important for people to share about their struggles, speak their truth and have someone just listen.
I know for me, I didn’t expect anyone to have answers and I didn’t want anyone to solve “my problem.” I just wanted people to know I struggled with it, it affected my life and that it felt devastating (even while I knew my life was good).
Something I’ve tried to do more of, is to really stop and think about what my words may sound like to someone else. What meaning could they take from this? Do my words contain a hint of judgment? Could these words possibly place blame on someone unfairly? I’ve also started saying something to the effect of, “Man, this sounds so hard. I don’t know what to say except I’m here and I will always try to be available to listen with an open mind and heart.” Sometimes, I also ask if there’s anything I can do to help. I’ve learned to stay away from empty words. “You’re so strong. Wow, I don’t know how you do it.” These words rarely make anyone feel better.
It’s not perfect and when I find myself in these tough, vulnerable conversations I am reminded that the human experience is so varied and full of pain and hardship that I don’t understand. I leave these conversations humbled and committed to staying compassionate and open.
I fully believe all of us want to do and be good to others. I truly do believe humans are made to care and love. Life hardens us and each of those hardenings leaves less and less room for that simple love for others. I vow to fight against that and try as hard as possible to listen and hear.
I also think this topic stretches beyond just hard life events. I think in friendship, we can also struggle to be there for the people we love in daily interactions and conversations. I know I haven’t always said the right thing or that I’ve accidentally offended or hurt someone with a careless opinion or word. That happens and we aren’t perfect. We won’t always say the right thing, but I think we have to start speaking up in those moments. Telling those you love when something was hurtful or when they said something that didn’t sit well is the only way to have better interactions.
With my husband, it is so easy for me to say, “What did you mean by that?” or “That was rude!” When I say that, he is afforded the opportunity to explain or think about his words. I don’t always afford that same opportunity to friends or other family members. Instead, I sit with their words and my interpretations of them. I let it steep until I’m angry and hurt. Meanwhile, that other person has no idea that they’ve offended me. Then, when enough of those misinterpretations build up, I began to craft a story that this person doesn’t care or want to understand me and I move on. Do any of y’all experience this? Or is it just me?
I was talking to my husband and mom about it earlier, and they agreed, although they don’t get quite as extreme as me maybe. My husband reflected on some of his past friendships and the lack of true connection. The words that weren’t spoken that said so much or the questions that went unasked. My mom talked about the well-meaning words some have said to her that really made her feel hurt and misunderstood. Neither one of them told those people how they felt.
I am not suggesting a society where everyone walks on egg shells and overthinks everything they say. Not at all! I am advocating for a world where we try to have compassion for things we don’t understand, we seek to stay engaged as friends and show our love through questions that show we’re interested, and that when we are hurt by another person’s words, we simply and calmly call that out. No one can do and be better if we don’t give them the opportunity.
Everyone deserves that opportunity and I have faith that when given that opportunity, the people we love will reflect, learn, and do better.
I don’t always have the right words, but I’m on the journey to showing others how much I care and that I want to understand and be there because ultimately I want friends and family members who will do the same for me.
I’d love to hear from y’all about moments or situations in which you were let down or hurt by a well-meaning phrase. I have definitely learned to stay away from certain phrases, but when people share new ones with me it really helps me connect and catalog those phrases so that I don’t unintentionally hurt someone in the same way.
Thanks for reading,