Four Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who is Hurting

Aug 31, 2020 1843

Four things you should never say to someone who is hurting

Once when I was young and I had a position of responsibility of a church, I was called to the hospital bedside of one of the members who had been run over by a truck earlier that day. He had suffered extremely serious injuries and he was lucky to be alive.

I was there with someone who was my senior, and I could hardly believe the words he spoke to this critically ill friend of ours. He said something like,

“You know why this happened to you, don’t you? It’s because you haven’t been faithful enough to God. He’s telling you to be more serious about your spiritual life.”

I’ve never forgotten that, as an example of what not to say to someone who is hurting.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen many other examples of totally wrong things to say to people who are suffering. These are things that we can easily say to others in a well-intentioned way, although they can cause great harm. Here are four things you should never say to someone who is hurting.

1. Don’t Minimise

You need to acknowledge a hurting person’s pain, not minimise it. In trying to help people, it’s common to attempt to minimise their suffering in various ways. Examples of these are when we say, “It could have been worse…” or “At least…”

When you minimise the pain someone is going through, you are telling the suffering person that they are unjustified if feeling as they do. When you do that, you are effectively becoming an all-knowing “judge and jury” over their lives. To be judged by others will only cause the suffering person more suffering and hurt.

2. Don’t Problem-Solve

In the midst of another’s pain, don’t try to problem-solve. That means not saying things like, “Why did you…” “What if you had…” “Next time…”

We all like to try to provide solutions, so we all readily fall into the role of problem-solver. Because we aren’t in the midst of pain ourselves, we think that this might be helpful. It might be helpful for you, but it will not be helpful at all for someone who are sitting in the midst of their grief.

When people are in the midst of pain, they need to go through their own process of grieving and processing what is happening to them. At this stage, problem-solving is not appropriate at all. Not only are people not capable of problem-solving at this stage, but this can cause people to inappropriately and harshly judge themselves and worsen their suffering.

3. Don’t be an Expert

When you are comforting someone who is suffering, don’t approach them as an expert. Instead, simply sit beside them in their pain. Experts say things like, “I think you should…”, “Just [do this or do that]”.

This was the approach taken by Job’s well-meaning but useless friends. They set themselves up as experts and they proceed to lecture Job about the reasons for his suffering and what he should do about it. When you do that, you are adopting a position of total arrogance, because you really don’t know what you are talking about because you aren’t the one who is suffering.

4. Don’t Preach

Never, ever preach to someone who is suffering. Never say things like, “God has a plan” or “God is going to make everything better”.

Job’s friends did a lot of preaching to him as well. They used the name of God a lot in what they said to him. But just because you refer to God a lot, it doesn’t mean that what you are saying is helpful. When they’re in pain, people don’t need you to preach to them. They need you to empathise with them and show them real compassion.

The best thing to say to someone who is suffering are usually a few well-chosen words of love and care. Then sit with them in their grief and be there for them. Consider also that in these situations, simple and helpful service to meet someone’s basic needs are more powerful than a million sermons.

– Eliezer Gonzalez

Maryane Dougherty

Sep 6, 2020

Dear Dr. Gonzalez, You nailed it! Great counsel in a beautifully written blogpost. I especially like the part about sitting w them (presence) & serving basic needs (action). Having gone through profound grief due to "out of time" deaths, I know when we suffer, the last thing we need are "Job's buds"; advice, or worst (in my view), minimization. Well done & thank you!


JOSEPH CHAGGAMA

Aug 31, 2020

Dear Dr. Eliezer, good day. I am a student of Dr. Desmond Ford's theology and eschatology. But I am equally a student of Dr. Joseph A. Ratzinger (Pope Benedict xvi) theology and eschatology. Dr. Ford's theology is more or less apologetic in that he took for granted that indeed humankind sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That made him take the canonical gospels as sacrosanct. Dr. Ratzinger, unlike ford, created a theological formula that he derived from the New Testament. So I found it easy to deal with the formula. Unfortunately, the formula is wrong and ended up with the same apologetic position held by Dr. Ford that humankind sinned against God and needed a savior. Just in case you will be interested to answer this question that made the sin formula problematic and render Jesus an insult to God, answer this? Who is Adam in the creation week that when he eats the fruits he changes the constellations? changes the subatomic particles to act randomly but equally fine-tuned with cataclysmic forces? who is Adam when he eats the "forbidden fruit" lions in eat antelopes and the seismic waves cause a tsunami in Indonesia and Fukuyama? Who is Adam that changes creation completely from its original form? Are we serving God we don't know? Could it be that we read the bible upsidedown? Was Tsunami solved by the death of Jesus on the cross? How about the bears in the tactic as the enjoy eating seals or fish? Is that because of the sin of Adm or just the creation order as it was in the beginning?


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