Grief Suffocation: How Our Attempts to Help Can Hurt

Mar 17, 2024

We know what you're thinking - how could someone's attempts to be supportive actually end up hurting the person they care about? Aren't words of encouragement and positivity supposed to help?

Well, here's the truth bomb - you really can't "ease" grief by pushing relentless, forced optimism. That kind of fake-it-til-you-make-it sunshine mentality usually backfires when someone is deep in grief.

These supposed words of support are what we're calling the "silent grief suffocators" - those comments, as well-intentioned as they might be, that dismiss and invalidate the complex emotions of grief. They leave the griever feeling misunderstood and pressured to just get over it already.

We're talking phrases like "This too shall pass" or "Good vibes only" (because come on, whose vibes are good 24/7, certainly not ours). On the surface, they're trying to uplift, but they make grievers feel like their emotions are just negativity that needs to be stamped out. Like they're failing for not smiling through the pain.

But grief isn't meant to be a positivity contest. It's messy, nonlinear, and resists trite platitudes. Hunting for bright sides too soon just suffocates the griever's ability to truly feel and process their loss. It's not about wallowing endlessly, but giving yourself the grace to fully experience whatever arises without judgment or cheery expectations.

Say This, Instead Of That: Supporting Someone Who's Grieving:

If someone you care about is grieving, it can be hard to know what to say. Here are some examples of supportive statements that validate their emotions, rather than trying to silence the grief:

Instead of: "Stay positive, things will get better!"
Say this: "It is so normal to feel however you're feeling right now. I'm here to listen."

Instead of: "They're in a better place now."
Say this: "I know how much you miss them. It's so hard to lose someone you love."

Instead of: "Everything happens for a reason."
Say this: "This really sucks. I am sorry you’re going through this”

Instead of: "You'll find another job/partner/pet in no time!"
Say this: "Losing something that mattered to you is really tough. Take all the time you need to grieve."

Beyond the things we say, our actions can also unintentionally make grievers feel unseen and pressured. Things like:

  • Sending job postings to someone grieving a job loss when they didn't ask and don't seem receptive yet

  • Pushing them to get rid of their loved one's belongings before they're ready

  • Pressuring them to go look at new pets right after losing one

  • Pushing them back into dating apps after a brutal breakup (before processing the loss)

At the end of the day, grief can't be strong-armed with forced positivity. Trying to shove those vibes down a griever's throat just slams the door on processing their loss. So ditch the silent suffocators and any pressure to "keep your chin up." Let them feel the darkness when that's what's present, and they'll find their own way to whatever light exists ahead when they're truly ready, not on your timetable.

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