“Everything happens for a reason” and other irritating platitudes.

There are things people tell us, platitudes, which may anger us when we are in dire straits, down in the dumps or dealing with loss. Well-meaning friends want to make us feel better. Perhaps they tell us from personal experience, but, unfortunately, we don’t learn from second-hand experience. Plus, we usually end up feeling frustrated by those platitudes. Following are some of the most irksome I can think of, and how they could be substituted with a more empathetic and helpful approach.

There are many fish in the sea: This is the last thing we want to do after a breakup: lose sight of the fish we lost and go looking for another one! We are in so much pain from the loss of whom we thought was our one and only. “So? I don’t want another fish! I want the one I lost back!” we think.

This too shall pass. Yes, it will, but at this time you are living in the painful now and can’t fathom feeling better, ever again. Yes, we all know we will in time get over the hump, and maybe just talking about it will do the trick. Feeling close to someone who understands will empower you.

You are better off. How the heck would you know!? If you just lost your job, this is like saying your job sucked, which you interpret as meaning that you suck. Maybe just trying to understand the situation and giving the person tips for finding a new job would be a better approach.

Everything happens for a reason. OK, great. Now back it up with some real meat, why don’t you? If the loss is profound, this is the worst thing you can say, right when someone is trying to figure out why such a bad thing happened to them. The statement might well be true but, as Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

Let go: This last one deserves a special mention. Books, articles and studies have been written about the art of letting go. This is something that we say often but haven’t the slightest idea of how to do, even by reading about it. It involves letting go of that which you most want. When you are sad, depressed, obsessed over a loss, the pull to control the outcome or situation is so strong there is little room to stop and think: Oh! Time to let go!

Next time a friend is down in the dumps, think twice before blurting out any of the above platitudes!

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