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12 Sympathy Phrases to Avoid and How to Offer Words of Sympathy

Sympathy Phrases to Avoid

Some of the most common sympathy phrases are really awful. They are said every day, you may not think anything about them. I’ve found myself saying a few of these statements before. They tend to be the first thing that pops into my head when I don’t know what to say.
I think all of these phrases are said with good intentions and are meant to offer hope and reassurance. However, these sympathy statements have been known to be offensive to grieving individuals and besides that, they are cliche and unsympathetic.

  • “Time will heal all wounds.”
  • “He is in a better place now.”
  • “God needed her more than we do.”
  • “At least he lived a full life.”
  • “I guess it was just his time to go.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Everything is going to be alright.”
  • “Count your blessings.”
  • “We all have to die sometime.”
  • “You have your whole life ahead of you.”
  • “You will find someone new.”
  • “Life goes on.”

The Trick to Never Saying the Wrong Thing

All of the most hurtful sympathy phrases (link to Psychology Today Article) have one thing in common. They try to make it better. Many hurtful sympathy phrases are dismissive or minimize grief. When you want to say something to comfort a grieving friend, it is best to first ask yourself:

  • Is what I am about to say advice?
  • Am I wanting to give a solution?
  • Am I trying to minimize her sorrow?
  • Is what I am about to say really about me?

You may be desperate to ease the heartache of a grieving friend, but grief cannot be fixed. It needs to be expressed and understood. Nothing you say can take away the pain of grief. Having all the answers is difficult, so don’t try it. Instead, seek to share in a friend’s grief by being a good listener.
More than words, gifts or flowers, sympathy is standing along someone and sharing the burden.
Any sympathy phrases that minimize grief tend to come off as insensitive. So you are better off being sad with a hurting friend, than trying to cheer her up.

Many of the phrases that ARE comforting are simple acknowledgments of the loss. So, how can you comfort and help a friend who is grieving? This is a long quote that explains it perfectly.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives
means the most to us, we often find that it is those
who, instead of giving much advice,
solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain
and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair
or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement,
who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing
and face with us the reality of our powerlessness,
that is a friend who cares.

~ Henri Nouwen

What to Say When There’s Nothing That Can be Said to Make it Better

sympathy phrases to avoid
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It’s honest and helpful to say that you don’t know what to say. There are no words for grieve, but letting a friend know that you care. Acknowledging that they have experienced a loss and allowing them to feel the way they feel. Sympathy phrases like this are actually helpful.

  • “I can’t imagine your pain, we are wishing you comfort and peace.”
  • “I don’t know what I can say. Our thoughts are with you.”
  • “There are no words, but please know that we are thinking of you during this difficult time.”

The types of messages that should be avoided almost always go wrong by trying to make it better or trying to cheer up someone who is grieving. This might be so common because we are uncomfortable with being around grief. We do care about our friend so we want to help them feel better. It tends to have the opposite effect though.

For particular types of loss such as miscarriage, it can be particularly difficult to know what to say. The types of messages that you should avoid when talking with a woman who has has a miscarriage all try to make it better. By accepting the fact that we can’t take away a loved one’s grief we can begin to offer real comfort and kind words.

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