The phrase "I'm sorry" in response to trauma and tragedy doesn't elicit a positive response from me. I think that because it's such an overused phrase, its meaning has been lost. It's obligatory. It's like handing someone a band-aid for a migraine: The intent might be there, but it's not particularly fitting for the occasion.
The phrases "I can't even imagine" and "that must have been tough" are even more ill-fitted. When someone has been struggling to get through something, they need your support. But unfortunately, the first phrase here only draws attention away from the victim, and the second one only supplies pity.
I know that when someone tells you something really personal and shocking, it can be hard to find the right words to address their pain. But that's why I'm writing this article. The next time that a person you know opens up to you about their trauma, I want you to have the right words to use to uplift them.
Disclaimer: In this article, my definition of trauma is anything that is deeply distressing and emotionally scars a person. It can be a singular event or a series of events. My personal trauma is the passing of my brother. Below, I include a list of positive phrases I wish people would have said to me throughout the years.
1. "You're so strong."
Finally, a sentence that empowers a person instead of making them feel pitiful or abnormal. To me, this feels like a compliment. I've felt weak and emotionally troubled for so long. Sometimes it's hard to remember that I survived the hardest parts of my trauma and lived through something I never thought I would be able to.
2. "I wish I knew you back then so I could have supported you through that."
Obviously, it's impossible to go back in time and change something that already happened. But it's nice to know that you've met people now that are good and healthy for you and care about your well being. Yeah, I wish that I had someone back then. At least I have people to help me now, though.
3. "If you ever want to talk about that more, I'm here for you."
This is always such a sweet thing to say to someone. Too many people feel alone and feel like they have no one to vent to. It's so important to have a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear on when you need it.
4. "Thank you for sharing that with me."
Whenever I talk about something tragic, I always feel like I'm bringing the mood down or giving people my baggage. I feel bad for being in pain. Thanking someone for sharing their hardships with you shows them that you appreciate every part of them and that they shouldn't feel bad about opening up.
5. "I don't know if I would have been able to handle that as well as you have."
This is another way to call someone emotionally strong. Sure, it is a little more indirect, but you're still praising and uplifting that person.
6. "Can I give you a hug?"
It might seem weird to ask if you can touch someone, but not everyone likes physical comfort. However, if they are someone that does, don't underestimate the value that it has.
7. "I'm glad that you felt comfortable enough with me to be so vulnerable."
It took me years to talk openly about my brother's death (even to close friends), without feeling scared of being judged or getting upset. So if I've talked about that with you, face to face, know that I love you and trust you. It's not something I can do with just anyone.
8. "I actually went through something similar."
Whenever I write an informative article or talk to someone about something serious, I do so with the hope of
1) Teaching a lesson,
2) Helping someone consider self-improvement, or
3) Creating a solution. If I can encourage someone to bear their soul, that's a beautiful moment to me.
9. "Please let me know what I can do to help you."
This one is about action. You're willing to do whatever possible to help your friend or family member out. You're a good person. We need more people like you in the world.
10. "Everything is going to be OK."
Sometimes, we need to hear something simple like this. Life can feel so tragic and gloomy and terrible. It's nice to have a reminder that there are brighter, clearer skies ahead.