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9 Platitudes to Stray From When Comforting Someone Who Is Struggling

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Tough times are an opportunity to start an exciting and baffling collection of inane thing people say when they don’t know what else to say. Platitudes. Ugh. Even the name makes me cringe. I get there’s no malice behind these comments. Let’s be frank, though, there’s often no insight, empathy or thought behind them either.

Picture this, you’re in the middle of the ocean struggling to keep your head above water. You can’t shout or wave for help, you’re too focused on staying alive. You hear a motor, look around and see a boat nearby. From the deck a voice calls out, “You are so inspirational! Remember, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” If you’re lucky, they throw you a life preserver before they speed off. Feels awesome, doesn’t it?

Here are some of my personal favorites:

1. God/the universe has a plan.

There’s a plan? You’re sure? If there is, I’m a very dissatisfied customer. I’d like to register my complaint immediately. This is a very bad plan. Possibly made by someone who doesn’t understand plans. Zero out of 10. Do not recommend.

2. God will never give you more than you can handle.

Hang on. Laughing too hard. Need a moment. Do I look like a bodybuilder, member of a bomb squad or a paratrooper? As the world’s best authority on me, allow me to assure you I can absolutely, under no circumstances, handle this. Every cell in my body agrees with this assessment.

3. God never closes a door without opening a window.

Okay, let’s have a quick tutorial about the differences between doors and windows. Doors are people-sized. They lead to places we want to go. Windows do not. They are awkwardly shaped, usually have screens in the way and have to be jumped out of. If you’re lucky, there’s a fire escape or it’s on the first floor. If you’re not — splat! Doors > Windows. ‘Nuff said.

4. Hope for a miracle.

Sure. Who doesn’t? But this is the equivalent of throwing a bouquet of flowers to someone who’s fallen into a pile of manure. Theoretically helpful, minimally helpful and infinitely infuriating.

5. Stay positive.

OK. I’m positive I hate everything I’m dealing with. Does that work? This one is a platitude drive-by. Congratulations, real life has made the speaker so uncomfortable their brain cannot formulate an intelligent response and instead, their emotional fight-or-flight response has engaged. If you listen closely, you can hear their neurons firing the word, “Bail!”

6. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Meteorologists should stick to the weather rather than pseudo-encouraging words. Lightning comes from inside clouds. Hail comes from inside clouds. Tornadoes come from inside clouds. Can we all agree things inside clouds are nearly universally bad, damaging and don’t make us feel better at all?

7. You need to accept the “new normal.”

Ahhh. The armchair therapist. Hello there! First of all, I don’t “need” to do anything. Second of all, grab a dictionary. There is a difference between accept and adjust. If an earthquake decimates a city, you don’t tell the traumatized citizens to “accept their new normal.” You equip and assist them in reclaiming what they can and mourning what they’ve lost. Please draw the appropriate parallels.

8. This too shall pass.

You know what else passes? Kidney stones. With excruciating pain and torment. Usually with medical intervention. Let’s assume whatever I’m currently facing is more like a kidney stone and less like a stubbed toe.

9. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Bringing death into this conversation makes it so much better, said no one ever. One of my favorite twists on this platitude is “What doesn’t kill you gives you a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a twisted sense of humor.” I think this is obvious in my case!

So, the next time someone offers you a platitude in response to your struggle, “Stay positive,” the impulse to burst into tears or throat punch that person “will pass.” Although it might be your “new normal,” you are under no obligation to accept it! It’s time for a platitude adjustment!

Getty image by Deagreez

Originally published: January 24, 2020
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