13 Sneaky Ways You’re Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations

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Grief is an intensely personal journey, and navigating it can be challenging for both the bereaved and those who aim to support them. While intentions are often good, specific comments or behaviors can unintentionally add to the pain. 

Whether you are a grief counselor or a friend trying to offer comfort, knowing these common pitfalls can help you provide more compassionate support.

I Know How You Feel.

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. No two experiences are identical. I remember when I lost my grandmother; someone said they knew exactly how I felt. It felt dismissive and made me feel like my grief was not valid.

Instead, try saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.” This acknowledges their unique experience and offers support without diminishing their feelings.

Using Platitudes

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by RDNE Stock project

Phrases like “They’re in a better place” or “Time heals all wounds” might seem comforting, but they can increase the griever’s pain. These phrases can make the grieving person feel like their pain is being dismissed or trivialized.

A more empathetic approach is, “I’m so sorry for your loss. How can I support you right now?” This shows that you acknowledge their pain and support them in their grief.

Asking Generic Questions

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

The classic ‘How are you?‘ tends to fall flat when someone is grieving. It’s better to engage in active listening, asking specific questions like, ‘How are you managing today?‘ or even just offering a listening ear without asking anything. This approach can make the bereaved feel more heard and understood.

Trying to “Fix” Their Grief

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by RDNE Stock project

Grief isn’t a problem to solve. Offering advice on ” fixing” their feelings can make them feel unheard. Sometimes, the best support is just sitting quietly and allowing them to express their emotions.

This is known as active listening, where you give your full attention to the person speaking without interrupting or offering advice. It can be a powerful way to show support and compassion in a brief conversation.

Telling Them How to Feel

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Grief has no timeline. Telling someone they should be ‘over it‘ by now is harmful. Every grief journey is different. It’s crucial to validate their emotions and let them grieve at their own pace. This approach can make the bereaved feel more supported and accepted in their journey.

Avoiding the Deceased’s Name

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by RDNE Stock project

Mentioning the deceased’s name can feel like a taboo, but often, the bereaved find comfort in talking about their loved one. It shows that you acknowledge their loss and remember the person who has passed.

Comparing Grief Journeys

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Statements like, “At least you had time to say goodbye,” or comparing their grief to others can invalidate their unique experience. Always remember that each person’s grief is theirs.

Suggesting They Should Be “Over It

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Grief doesn’t come with an expiration date. Comments implying they should be “over it” by now can make them feel rushed or misunderstood. Instead, offer continuous support without judgment.

This means being patient and understanding that grief takes time. It’s important to respect the grieving person’s timeline and not to pressure them to ‘move on’ before they’re ready.

Changing the Subject

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Kampus Production

When the bereaved bring up their loved one, changing the subject to avoid discomfort sends the message that their grief is inconvenient. Allow the conversation to unfold naturally, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Sometimes, a touch on the shoulder or a hug can convey more comfort and support than words. Non-verbal communication can be a powerful tool in a brief conversation.

Giving Unsolicited Advice

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Offering advice on how to grieve or cope can seem presumptuous. Unless they ask for guidance, offering a shoulder to cry on and ears to listen is better.

This is a ‘holding space, ‘where you create a safe and supportive environment for grieving people to express their feelings. It’s about being present and available without trying to ‘fix’ their grief or offer solutions.

Making Diminishing Comments

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

Phrases like “It was for the best” or “They lived a good life” can feel dismissive. Acknowledge their pain and resist the urge to rationalize the loss.

Overwhelming Them with Your Own Stories

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

Sharing your grief stories might be intended to create empathy, but it can overshadow their experience. Focus on listening to their story instead.

Avoiding the Grieving Person

Sneaky Ways You're Unintentionally Adding Pain to Grief Conversations
Photo by RDNE Stock project

Sometimes, not knowing what to say leads to avoidance, which can leave the bereaved feeling isolated. Even a simple message or gesture can mean a lot and remind them they have your support.

Grief conversations may never be easy, but you can provide genuine support and compassion with a thoughtful approach. Remember, the goal is not to fix their grief but to walk alongside them in their journey, offering understanding and kindness at every step.

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