I often feel at odds with the pat expressions and meaningless exchanges others seem to not think about.
Like walking by a person you know and they ask “How are you?”, but they keep walking by; not even waiting for the expected “fine” or “good”.
Why not just smiled and nod to acknowledge each other, without the charade of conversation and asking a question when you’re not interested in the answer.
Although, since my response is “better”, often the person will stop in their tracks and become concerned that I’ve been sick. I’ve now taken to saying “bitter”.
But, the meaningless exchange that’s troubling my thoughts is a rather bizzare idea of being comforting.
When a person is depressed about life or are in the middle of a crisis, I just do not understand what possible relevance or how it’s supposed to be comforting that being told that “other people have it worse.”
Yes, for every single person on the planet, there will be others who are suffering more and still others who are having a rather better time of it. And? This is supposed to mean what?
To a person in crisis or depressed, what other people are or are not experiencing isn’t relevant to their situation and isn’t a solution.
When a person invokes the “other people have it worse” is it nullified by “others have it better”?
Are references to these vague “other people” just another way to say, chin up, stiff upper lip and that other soldier on bad advice?
Vague words of comfort are no comfort at all – and certainly, they do not lead towards solutions to the situation.
Maybe the better thing to say to a person who’s suffered a loss is to acknowledge that no words are comforting at this juncture. They are more honest and don’t have the backfire potential that false or meaningless comfort pat phrases do.
(For example, it’s not at all comforting to hear “your grandparent lived a long life” or “at least they are out of pain now”)
Even offers of help don’t really penetrate the greivor’s brain in the moment, but are generally remembered later as a kindness if followed up by helpful actions.
To a person’s who’s depressed about their current circumstances, being told to buck up isn’t helpful because part of depression is low or no resiliance. You simply do not have the mental, emotional and often physical capacity to pull yourself together, so this only invokes guilt that you’ve failed again or fallen short of the minimum requirements.
Shifting the depressed person to thinking about the future instead of dwelling on the current situation – what they want to be different and reverse engineering how to achieve it gives them goals and something to look forward to. More importantly, it’s a plan of action that can restart the resiliancey, energy and capacity needed. Sometimes you just need a chemical helper for your brain chemistry, antidepressants can be a good friend.
Considering people in disaster zones, Katrina, Tsunami 2004, Haiti Earthquake 2010 – the people in these areas have had their lives utterly disrupted – there’s no question that they have it bad.
But it doesn’t lessen the suffering of the people living with decades of drought, starvation, disease and corrupt governments in Africa.
These just make for sexier headlines because they are big events rather than a continous reality of multiple generations.
And neither of these conditions reduce the suffering of a middle class western person who’s just had a death in their family or circle of friends or lost their job or some other traumatizing event.
Calling a comparason between a person and vague others tends to have the effect of making a person feel guilty for feeling bad when “others have it worse”.
Isn’t that the opposite effect of what the phrase is supposed to accomplish?