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appropriate responses to "I'm so sorry that happened to you"?


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So...

 

When things suck and I try to tell people they suck, often people will say, "I'm so sorry that happened to you," and then try to hug me.

 

Sometimes I let them hug me because it makes them feel better. Sometimes I don't and say, "Not right now."

 

What are some things you say when people say, "I'm sorry that happened to you?"

 

I want to say stuff like...

-Yeah. It sucked a lot.

-Stop pitying me.

-You have no idea.

-Whatever.

 

or just kick them

 

 

I don't want to be dismissive. I don't want to be rageful. Sometimes I feel angry, and I'm ok with feeling angry.  

 

But what do you say if they're like genuine?

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This is something that I struggle with, too. I usually just say "thanks for your concern" and, if it's being really hard, offer a concrete way that they could help (which usually involves going with me to get groceries since, left to my own devices, I'll get lost in there for hours on end). I despise when people offer hugs. That's when I get really kicky, fast. I try to remember to use my words.

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Usually some variation on "Yeah. It's not awesome." 

 

I always feel like there isn't a whole lot to do other than acknowledge that it's an indescribably shitty thing that shouldn't have happened. 

 

It doesn't usually make me angry when people say that, as long as they stop there and don't keep talking about it like it's an interesting topic or whatever. But ain't nobody hugging me. I'll scoot away from them like Zoidberg and go "NOPE! NO TOUCHY!" if they try. 

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For me it totally depends on the person.

Nowadays I am honest and say, "life sucks".

Then if they get all chippy dippy I might kick them.

Usually they mumble something, and I'll say, 'yeah, it sucks'. 

Sometimes say nothing, just look at them.

 

In the hug department, I am a hugger.

I give and want hugs, with the exception my parents and older brother.

And I always can tell when someone does not want to be hugged.

I much prefer honesty than take a grudge hug.

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It really depends on the person. If I can avoid the hug, I do (and I blame the cultural difference, French people are not huggers). 

And for people saying that... I'm actually fine with it. I mean, it's not as if people could fix anything, so they are trying some empathy, and I most of the time just say  "well, yes, that's not the best thing ever". Because... what is there to say?

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it is an uncomfortable thing to hear.  i try to remember whoever is saying it is trying to be kind (the hugs though, ugh, nope).  usually i just say "thank you" and then like mal said, change the subject really quickly.

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I wonder if it's because it's the same words as people who either don't care, or feel so awkward they don't know what to say, or are intentionally or unintentionally invalidating.

 

Maybe it helps if I can translate it into something longer... like "I'm sorry that happened" is short hand for "Wow. That's incredibly painful. I am so sad you got hurt. And I am really glad you are here now. And that you trust me enough to talk about this."

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Maybe it helps if I can translate it into something longer... like "I'm sorry that happened" is short hand for "Wow. That's incredibly painful. I am so sad you got hurt. And I am really glad you are here now. And that you trust me enough to talk about this."

Wooster, yes to all of this.  this is what helps me immensely.

 

i do on average 10-12 "practice" interviews with student doctors/psychiatrists every year.  during most interviews there are four students present.  so that's a lot of people asking me questions about my experience with trauma (after all, getting a brief psychosocial history during the first interview is important, and this is what they're learning how to do).  

 

when they do ask, i do give an extremely brief explanation of a few traumatic experiences that sort of sum up my childhood.  the range of reactions i see and hear is amazing.  now, i'm numb to saying the few things i do tell (the repetition is enough to suck all the emotion out of it).  but i forget that to others who haven't experienced trauma, these things are horrible.

 

the most common phrase i've ever heard in that situation is "i'm so sorry that happened to you".  exactly what you wrote.

 

it is by far a better response than the students who actually stare at me with their mouths open, or look down at their feet because they can't look at me anymore, or press for more detail than is appropriate for an initial interview (the psychiatric equivalent of forcing a hug).

 

the ones who can continue to look at me - and even though i know they are feeling overwhelmed and don't know what to say - those ones who can at least pull out of their own discomfort enough to say "i am sorry" and still look me in the eye - 

 

i'm thinking that they're trying to say "oh my god that sucks so bad, and i wish there was a way to make that better but there just isn't, but i will listen to you and i am glad that you shared that with me even though it hurt to hear it".  because that's what their faces say, those ones who apologize.  sometimes their eyes water over a little.  you can see they're feeling it.  the rest of the room goes silent and wants to hurry up, but there's usually that one who just says that and keeps looking at you because you might still want to say something, and they think that's more important than getting an interview done on time.

 

and i'm not talking about anything horrifically out of the ordinary, they will hear far worse in their future careers than anything i have to say.  so i hope most of them get better at it, but they probably won't, which is how we have ended up with all the crappy responses we've all had from doctors in the past, am i right?

 

i'm sorry is uncomfortable because we have to acknowledge that yes what happened was really that awful.  there's a lot of misplaced shame attached to that, for me anyway.

 

i think if they say it, they're trying.  trying is as good as it ever gets from someone who hasn't been there.

 

that's my experience with it, anyway.  but that's after having told the stories so many times.  i can't remember what it's like when it's raw.  i'm probably elsewhere when that happens.

 

but i think you are entitled to feel anything you want when someone says that to you.  i wish it didn't make you mad because i don't want you to feel bad.  but if you hate hearing that then there's NOTHING wrong with it.  and if you're close enough to the person i think it's even okay to say so.

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I don't like it when people say that because for some reason it just always feels like them making it about their reaction and wanting to make it end.  It just seems like it's about THEM and THEIR feelings.

 

I don't care if THEY are sorry.  I don't actually care how they feel at all.

 

If someone tells me that they have had traumatic experiences, I usually just nod, wait, and be open to whatever they might have to say next, or if they want to talk about it more or change the subject.

 

Or I say something about whatever the original topic was that led to the disclosure, like "I can see why you would be having a hard time right now."

 

If it's a professional setting and I'm the one who asked, I say "Thank you for sharing that with me; I know it can be hard to talk about."

 

If someone says that to me, sometimes I say "Why?  You didn't do it."  Maybe that's rude.

Or I just shrug and say "Yeah.  It sucked."

 

I don't like it though.

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Lys, your comment reminded me of this video explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw. It seems to me that you're looking for the best in people, and trying to find their empathy.

Sympathy, on the other hand, can not only be false, but become actively demeaning. Demeaning can easily become re-victimizing. Which is definitely the opposite of what we want.

 

Apologies if I've shared that already.

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Rosie, that makes perfect sense.  i sound like i'm saying any attempt at saying anything feels better than saying nothing... that's really not true and i don't want to make it seem as though we should all be grateful for any reaction that isn't "omg shut up".  you're right, sympathy doesn't feel the same.  i guess sympathy to me is that thing where people are making it about themselves, and empathy is about trying to be present for someone else's benefit, like you and tryp said.  i think because i do all that talking in a clinical setting it's probably different too.  these people are strangers i'll never see again.

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Lys, your comment reminded me of this video explaining the difference between empathy and sympathy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw. It seems to me that you're looking for the best in people, and trying to find their empathy.

Sympathy, on the other hand, can not only be false, but become actively demeaning. Demeaning can easily become re-victimizing. Which is definitely the opposite of what we want.

 

Apologies if I've shared that already.

oh, share it again. What a lovely explanation. Empathy, unfortunately, is much harder to find than sympathy.

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I haven't really told anybody about what happened to me. But I agree with Lys. Maybe I also look for the good in people, but I try to put myself in their shoes. I think it's hard to find something to say, because what happened should not have happened. I think it takes some people by surprise, and they normally don't have a thought out answer. It's hard to find something to say when you don't want to pry, or de-mean, and are surprised. 

 

I guess what I'm trying to say is sure, maybe some people care more then others, and some have more tact. But I remember how everyone is different and how we all respond to things differently. I think that for the most part, when people say I'm sorry for what happened to you, they mean it. And they don't mean to be malicious in anyway. 

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It's funny, I've always considered "I'm sorry that happened to you." to be one of the best responses when people hear about my trauma. It's a bit eye-opening to hear that a lot of people find it offensive or uncomfortable or belittling. I've said it to other survivors, perhaps I should be more careful about that. I always mean it with empathy, and I've always felt that the people who have said it to me have meant it with empathy as well. But intentions do not necessarily come across with words.

 

That said, I think we're all entitled to our own responses to this sort of thing. I've probably just been lucky enough to never have run across someone who says that in a belittling way. And regardless, if it makes you angry it makes you angry. I just think it's good to note that many people who say it aren't intending it in a belittling or invalidating way.

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It's funny, I've always considered "I'm sorry that happened to you." to be one of the best responses when people hear about my trauma.

 

It is the only response that doesn't rankle when people hear my brother passed.

I'm so sorry, without any buts,ifs or ands, is the one non judgemental comment I can take when talking about my past/current trauma.

 

some people say it and then, whip right by and go on to, "well, what's for dinner?" which can be a blessing.

other people say it and then go on to, "but you are fine now, right?" which makes me want to smack them.

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some people say it and then, whip right by and go on to, "well, what's for dinner?" which can be a blessing.

other people say it and then go on to, "but you are fine now, right?" which makes me want to smack them.

 

that is such a good point.  the followup behaviour makes a huge difference.

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some people say it and then, whip right by and go on to, "well, what's for dinner?" which can be a blessing.

other people say it and then go on to, "but you are fine now, right?" which makes me want to smack them.

 

Oh god. I would smack them too. That's making me angry just thinking about it.

 

That's probably what I've been lucky enough to avoid. 

 

With me it's usually been followed up by something along the lines of "Is there anything I can do to help?" which I like, because I can just say "No, let's go back to Scrabble" or whatever it was we were doing. 

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