Dating and Relationship Advice

Sitting with others through their pain is a huge challenge. It's emotionally taxing and it reminds us how little control and power we have, especially when our friend is struggling with something that we can’t change.

It’s natural to want to fix the problem or to take away our friend's pain. But trying to find a solution right away makes us say the wrong thing. It can come across as invalidating rather than supportive.

What is invalidation?

Invalidation occurs when we dismiss or reject someone’s feelings. Even if not directly saying so, we are sending the message that the person’s feelings and experiences are not meaningful, significant, or truthful. Alternatively, validation of experience is a way to show someone that we understand their emotional experience and that it makes sense given the circumstances. Validating someone’s emotions does not necessarily mean that we agree with them, it means we can see how the situation is challenging. It is empathy at its core.

Invalidation can be so subtle that we don’t realize we are doing it. When comforting a friend, the last thing we want to do is inadvertently reject the friend we are trying so desperately to help.

Here are 3 statements to avoid when comforting a friend, and what to say instead.

"It’s not that bad"

This can take many forms. People also say, “it could be worse" or “at least it isn’t X.”

Why this is invalidating

There will always be something that could be worse than what we are experiencing, but saying that doesn’t actually make people feel better. It implies that they “shouldn’t” feel the way they feel, which actually makes people feel worse.

What to say instead

Instead, try showing your friend you can understand their pain. Say things like “I know this sucks" and “I can see why you’re feeling sad/angry/afraid.”

"Everything happens for a reason"

Variations include “trust in the universe’s plan” or “try to find meaning in it.”

Why this is invalidating

Empty platitudes like “everything happens for a reason" are exactly that — empty. Don’t try to justify your friend’s pain.

Even if your intentions are good, this response completely disregards their emotional experience and sends the message that their pain is justified because it probably happened for a reason, which is unhelpful.

Even if you believe in a higher power, your friend might not, so keep statements like this to yourself.

What to say instead

Say, “I know this doesn’t make sense.” Say, “I’m here for you.”

"I know how you feel because…"

We all have that friend who we come to in our time of need and they use our experience as a springboard to tell their own story. And most often their experience doesn’t really fit with what we're going through. Which leaves us feeling like they just wanted to talk about themselves.

Why this is invalidating

When people say this, they’re trying to relate to their friend's experience, but doing it poorly. They're using someone's pain as an excuse to talk about themselves. There is nothing more invalidating than going to a friend about your pain, and them saying they know how you feel because of a completely unrelated experience.

What to say instead

Instead say, “Wow, that sounds really painful.” Or “I know it’s really hard when X happens.” Don’t launch into your own story.

Take home message

Most people don’t intend to be invalidating, but it’s important to know when you are so you can correct it. Avoid empty platitudes and any sentiment that minimizes or dismisses a friend’s feelings. The way to be there for friends is to sit with them through the pain, rather than try to fix it or make it better. Let them know you’re there for them. Let them know that you get it. And just be there. That in itself is enough and more.

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