Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is Comfort?

When your child is sick or scared, you take her in your arms, pat her head and say, "Don't worry. You'll feel better." or "Don't worry, everything will turn out fine." And often that is indeed the case.

But those words of comfort are often actually destructive, especially when spoken to an an adult. When you say, with a cheery upbeat voice, "Oh, don't worry, you'll be fine," you deny the validity of the person's feelings, and indeed imply (though you may not realize it) that he or she is misguided or stupid.

Here's what people in distress might prefer to hear:

"I respect your distress. I respect how you are feeling."

"I hope things will go well. I want to offer you my positive thoughts (and prayers, if that is meaningful to you)."

Of course, we all wish the best for those in distress, but we must be careful that our words don't leave the person feeling invalidated and even more alone and scared.


  1. I do reiki and hypnotherapy at a hospice and yesterday I had to deal with some VERY distressed patients. It is difficult to know what to say to someone who knows they are going to die - but you are so right to say that respecting the validity of their feelings is the first thing to do

  2. There's nothing like acknowledging the challenges and pain someone is suffering with to help support them. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Your title question is my life's work right now. If you come up with the definitive answer, blast me off an email.