Four Phrases You're Using To Help That Hurt

I got nostalgic one day, so I hit up Ebay, and sure enough, there was one for sale. So $18 and a week later, it arrived. I was pumped. You see the cool thing about this hot wheels supercharger station is that, as my hot wheels would pass through it, it would launch the cars out really fast. They would come into the station about out of energy and then the supercharger would zip them out and they would be off again! So why am I telling you that I’m a grown man that acts like a 10 year old when it comes to hot wheels? Because I thought it was a great picture of what a Rescuer does. You and I, we are like these little stations that our friends pass through. We love them, encourage them, remind them of who they are and point them to who they can be. BOOM, they zip out for another lap around the track.

But sometimes the things coming out of our mouth don’t energize people, they wear them out. Instead of our words giving life they suck people dry.  As rescuers, we have to make sure were not draining people but stirring up hope in them.  Here are four phrases that need to be retired to ensure that we’re supercharging others and not putting the brakes on their healing process.

“What Can I Do?”   When someone is in crisis, do not say this or it’s close companion, “Let me know if you need anything.”  These sound like nice helpful statements but what you’re actually doing is giving that person a job. When you are hurting you have no idea what you need! This question forces our own helplessness now onto the person who needs help. Instead, say “I’m on my way.” Just show up. Bring over Chipotle. Grab Starbucks. Invite them over for dinner. Call them and pray for them right over the phone. Listen for needs and then just do it. Don’t assign hurting people a job, but just show up.

“It’s not that bad.” When someone feels broken by something, it’s a really bad idea to minimize that issue. Basically you’re shaming them for feeling defeated. You’re judging their struggle. Now there are lots of ways we say this unhelpful phrase. For instance, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That is not in the Bible. You’re basically telling the person that, “You should be handling this! God says you can handle this!” and using God to shame people. No. Stop that! Instead say “This. Takes. guts.”  Let them know how brave they are being and recognize that the battle their fighting is real. Don’t minimize, empathize.

“That was stupid.” Again there are lots of ways to say this without really saying it. For example, we might say “have you prayed about this?” which is code word for “that’s stupid.” Or we say “What did you think would happen?” All these are passive aggressive ways of saying, “Dude, you’re stupid and you deserve this.” Now remember, we’re talking to a hurting person. So even if it is stupid were talking to a soul in crisis. Try, “This mistake does not define you.”  Even when you want to shake them with a  “What were you thinking!?” But they weren’t thinking. They were hijacked by feelings. They got lost. They need a hug not a slap. They need to hear you say, “I’m sorry this happened. I’m with you. We’ll get through it.”

“They are in a better place.” People really don’t know what to say to a person who’s just buried a loved one. Death is a hard thing. It’s so final. Everyone feels the obligation to say something so we come out with ‘At least their suffering is over’ or ‘They wouldn’t want to come back now, they’re in a better place.’ While it’s nice to think of your dead child or spouse or parent hi-fiving Jesus in heaven, that doesn’t make you miss them any less help you process your grief. So what should we say in these situations is, “You know you’re in my heart, right?” Heres the point. It’s far more powerful to tell that person where they are and where you are than where their loved one is. You are with them. You are sad. Cancer sucks. Death is tragic. Loss is horrible. But you aren’t going anywhere.

When we don’t know what to say, maybe the best response is, “I love you.” That pretty much covers it all don’t you think?


To learn more about what phrases you should use when helping others, download our free E-Book "How To Help Hurting People."


Mike Foster