Avoid These Phrases When Supporting a Friend (and What You Should Do Instead)

Avoid These Phrases When Supporting a Friend (and What You Should Do Instead)

Most people deal with grief and other difficulties at some point in their life, so you’d think that we’d all be old pros at offering our support to others when they experience hard times. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work like that. We may struggle to find the right words and find ourselves falling back on the same few canned phrases—even when we know they’d drive us nuts if the roles were reversed.

“People typically don’t want to hear one-liners expected to ‘solve’ their problem,” says Melissa Flint, PsyD, a clinical psychologist specializing in grief and associate professor at Midwestern University. “They want someone just to be with them, rather than fix them.” 

So, which “supportive” phrases still have an impact, and which are now perceived as hollow clichés? Like grief itself, it’s complicated.

‘Supportive’ clichés you’re better off avoiding

In a recent survey by Preply, 60 percent of participants indicated that they’ve been on the receiving end of phrases that were meant to be supportive, but instead came across as cliché and insincere. Participants were also asked about the specific phrases that they find the most annoying and hollow. Those include:

  • You’re stronger than you think.
  • You’re a fighter.
  • You’ve got this.
  • You’re not defined by this moment.
  • You’re an inspiration.
  • You’re capable of great things.
  • I’m here for you.
  • You’re not alone.
  • Keep going, don’t give up.
  • I’ve got your back.
  • You can do it.
  • I’m rooting for you.
  • I’ve got faith in you.
  • I believe in you.
  • I’m here to lend an ear.
  • You’re making progress.
  • You’re amazing.
  • You’re doing great.
  • I’m proud of you
  • I’m here to listen.
  • I’m here to support you in any way I can.
  • I’m on your side.

Although they likely weren’t options on the survey, it’s also typically best to avoid:

  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • This is all part of God’s plan.
  • [The deceased] is in a better place now.

The ‘best’ supportive phrases to hear

Meanwhile, the survey also asked participants about their favorite phrases to hear from others when they’re going through a hard time themselves, and they identified the following:

  • I’m proud of you.
  • You’ve got this.
  • I believe in you.
  • You’re doing great.
  • I’m here for you.
  • You can do it.
  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m here to help.
  • I’m here to support you in any way I can.
  • You’re amazing.
  • You’re not alone.
  • I’m on your side.
  • I’m here to listen.
  • I’ve got faith in you.
  • You’re making progress.
  • You’re capable of great things.
  • You’re stronger than you think.
  • You’re an inspiration.
  • Keep going—don’t give up.
  • You’re a fighter.

As you probably noticed, there’s quite a bit of overlap between this list and the one above. This makes sense, Flint says, because everyone is different in what they find supportive. “No one phrase will be universally helpful, so perhaps considering the intent behind the words is best,” she says.

Why is it so difficult to find something genuinely supportive to say?

In short, because as a society, we’re uncomfortable with grief and other hardships—whether we’re experiencing them ourselves, to attempting to support other people, Flint says. When we don’t know what to say, or don’t want to spend much time dwelling on the darker events in life, it’s much easier for us to revert back to the same tired expressions that we were taught, or have heard ourselves.

“We often hear—and then pass along—phases that minimize the situation, are cliché at best and downright hurtful more often, because it’s all we have to work from,” she says. “These phrases are often more about us than the person on the receiving end.” When we use them, we’re essentially trying to convince ourselves that the other person will get through the difficult situation, and, in the process, absolve ourselves from the “in the trenches” care that they need now, and may need for quite a long time, Flint explains.

How to support someone going through a difficult time

Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all phrase or statement that’s universally helpful, Flint recommends focusing on staying in the present moment, rather than trying to come up with the perfect thing to say. “Remember: Sometimes the greatest grief support is not in any words at all,” says Flint. In other words, when it comes to offering your support, show, don’t tell. This could be doing things like leaving someone a note or packages, dropping off some groceries, or walking their dog. “True grief support is being supportive, rather than talking about providing support with statements of platitude,” says Flint.


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